It’s bloody time we talked about menstrual equity
Just one year after Toronto Mayor John Tory proclaimed May 28 Menstrual Hygiene Day, today, the national conversation around menstrual equity and poverty is sounding much different.
Discussions of periods and menstrual equity have become hot topics on legislative agendas across the country, largely promulgated by British Columbia’s recent decision to make menstrual products mandatory in all public schools, and a recent federal proposal and consultation process to provide free products in all federally regulated workplaces. The developments come less than a year after the Canadian government’s removal of the “tampon tax.”
For menstrual equity advocates like Jana Girdauskas, the progress is long overdue.
“There’s this huge menstrual wave happening across Canada and it’s a huge win,” she told According to Adrienne. “I think people are saying, ‘Hey, this is something that we need to talk about and really reduce the stigma.’ It’s wonderful to see how fast the conversation is changing.”
As the founder and CEO of The Period Purse, a Toronto-based, not-for-profit organization that provides free menstrual products to those in need, Girdauskas has been one of Toronto’s loudest advocates for increased access to menstrual products. (She also happens to be one of the most prominent voices in the ongoing national conversation and is working with the federal government during its consultation process). Girdauskas started The Period Purse in 2017 after a chance encounter with a homeless woman left her questioning how low-income people access menstrual products every month. Today, she is a “menstrual advocate” for all marginalized groups and works within the community and alongside politicians to address the stigma that she says surrounds periods, as well as to increase awareness of period poverty in Canada.
According to a Plan International Canada survey report released in 2018, period poverty, which refers to a lack of access to menstrual products due to financial constraints, affects one-third of women and girls under the age of 25. The survey, one of the few of its kind, found that women often struggle to afford menstrual products every month. Eighty-three per cent of women surveyed said they felt their period prevented them from fully participating in activities, while on average, the women said they spend $200 more a month on personal appearance and hygiene products than men.
For Girdauskas, period poverty is about more than simply being unable to afford menstrual products; She says it’s also about gender, class and social equity. Subsequently, its impact is multidimensional.
“We find that women will spend anywhere from $10 to $40 for period supplies every month,” she explains, adding that for some, this can mean having to choose between menstrual products and a meal. “In Canada, girls are missing school because of a lack of [menstrual] products, and women are missing work. That’s putting them further behind in this gender equity world that we’re fighting for.”
Across the country, governments at all levels are taking steps against period poverty or considering possible action. Further to requiring all public schools to provide free menstrual products in washrooms by this fall, British Columbia has also provided $300,000 in funding and startup costs for the program. In London, city council recently approved a motion to provide pads and tampons in all public buildings while back in March, the City of Toronto allocated more than $222,000 for menstrual products and dispensers in city-run homeless shelters, drop-ins and respite centres.
The push for menstrual equity in Canada has seen significant progress this year but it hasn’t been without challenge. Municipalities are grappling with the logistics of providing free products in public facilities. And across all levels of government, two questions are being repeatedly asked asked:
How much will the programs cost, and where will the money come from?
Right now, there’s no clear answer.
“This is something that’s never happened here in Canada, so it’s a learning process,” said Girdauskas. “It’s new, it’s uncomfortable and of course it’s going to cost us money.”
As she works with the federal government during its 60-day consultation process, Girdauskas’ next challenge will be to help identify the costs of the proposed program and then, to find the budget.
It’s no easy hurdle to clear but given the progress the push for menstrual equity has made in just a year, there’s certainly hope to be had.
But that’s just According to Adrienne.