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Educational Equity Through Free Menstrual Products

| Chantelle Spicer | Across the country, public institutions from libraries to high schools are beginning to offer free menstrual products, with many colleges and universities across the country beginning to contribute to the movement.

Currently, only a handful of post-secondary institutions offer free menstrual products including Centennial College, Mount St Vincent University, Carleton University, and University of Kings College. In the province, Langara College is currently considering how to implement the initiative.

Nancy Pollak, coordinator of the women’s studies program at Langara College, states taking action on this is important as “it does make a difference in women’s ability to participate in their communities wholeheartedly.”

The efforts of advocates at Centennial College have been made through the Free the Tampons campaign, which is dedicated to breaking down stigmas around menstruation and raising awareness around issues of equity for all who menstruate.

Shannon Brooks, Centennial’s associate vice-president of corporate services, said the initiative was proposed by a male staff member, who having taken for granted that using the restroom was an all-inclusive, complimentary service, was dismayed to learn that people who menstruate have to provide for their own supplies.

“It’s one of those things that it’s always been that way, so you don’t really think about it,” Brooks said. “To me, this is a way of changing expectations.”

Recent victories in menstrual-related equity have been celebrated within the British Columbia K-12 system when the New Westminster School Board voted to install coin-free dispensers in every girls’ and universal bathroom in every school in their district, becoming the first in Canada to adopt such a policy.  

The idea came from Douglas College professor Selina Tribe, who pitched the initiative to the school board.

“We know that girls, if they can’t manage their periods properly, will remove themselves from activities, from extracurricular or athletic activities, also social activities, and in the worst case, they will actually miss school.”

In May, a survey was conducted by Plan International Canada, and found that one-third of women under the age of 25 in Canada have struggled to pay for menstrual products. This is particularly important in post-secondary considering the rates of student hunger and poverty generally.

“Tampons are pricey for any woman, but women who can hardly afford to buy food can’t afford to buy a $10 box of tampons, leaving them to choose between food or feeling comfortable when on their period,” states a Selkirk College student who wished to remain anonymous.