Put free menstrual products in all women’s washrooms. Period

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TheStar.com – Opinion
March 10, 2019.   By

Toronto city council took a small step last week toward addressing what’s known as “period poverty” when it agreed to spend $222,000 this year to supply menstrual products at city-run shelters and some community centres.

That means homeless women and girls using those facilities won’t have to resort to using rolled-up tissues or newspaper when they are menstruating, all of which can lead to irritation, infections and even deadly toxic shock syndrome.

That’s a positive step. But the city, school boards and the province should go further. They should strive for what’s known as “period equity” to normalize the conversation around menstruation and end the shame about what is, after all, a normal bodily function for half the population.

To start, feminine hygiene products should be available for free not just in shelters and schools, but in workplaces and public spaces such as libraries, concert halls, sports arenas — and even privately owned stores and restaurants.

After all, businesses don’t ask customers to drop a quarter into a slot to access toilet paper or paper towels.

Indeed, period equity is not just about homeless girls and women who face a loss of dignity and barriers to participating in society when they are menstruating.

Some girls are held back from school when they are menstruating because their parents can’t afford to buy tampons or pads.

Other women with low incomes have to choose between buying food for their families and purchasing menstrual products.

Even when they can afford them, pads and tampons are not easily accessible to girls and women.

Students in the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District School Board who need tampons or pads, for example, must go to areas near the office where they can access them in “emergencies.”

This only reinforces their feelings that periods are not a normal bodily function. After all, no one has to go to the office for an emergency supply of toilet paper.

Toronto’s school boards should take their lead from the New Westminster School Board in British Columbia. It decided last month to install coin-free dispensers in all girls and universal restrooms in elementary, middle and secondary schools.

In passing the motion the school board nailed the crux of the issue. It said it hoped the move would “enhance the ability of students to manage menstruation without undue delay, embarrassment, financial burden or shame.”

The school trustees also asked the province to provide funding to all schools to do the same. B.C.’s health minister is considering the request, and the Ford government should do the same.

Happily, the period equity movement is gaining ground, opening up the conversation around this once-taboo topic.

Indeed, from Pad Man, a recent movie starring one of India’s biggest name actors, Akshay Kumar, to Period. End of Sentence, the short documentary that received an Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards, to last month’s release of the first period emoji — a cartoon red blood droplet — menstruation is having a moment.

That’s all to the good. After all, Plan International UK pushed the agency that maintains and regulates emojis to approve the cartoon droplet, after a 2017 poll found that 48 per cent of girls and women in Britain between the ages of 14 and 21 are embarrassed by their periods.

They aren’t alone. Movements such as Menstruation Nation have been launched in high schools, colleges and universities across Canada by girls and women who want to get free menstrual products in women’s washrooms and — just as importantly — break down what they say is the stigma surrounding menstruation.

Toronto council took one small step to end period poverty in this city for the homeless. But there’s a long way to go before half the population has what they need, when they need it, in public washrooms and private facilities.

Now it’s up to governments and businesses to take up the Menstruation Nation initiative. Period.

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2019/03/10/put-free-menstrual-products-in-all-womens-washrooms-period.html

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