If you can’t handle menstruation, you are the problem
Stop treating our hygiene products as though this is a choice we are making
by mind friesen, contributor
Bleeding: a fact of life for roughly half of us, and we accept it, sometimes bleeding through pants at school or work. “Menstrual Equity in Canada: What is happening in Public Policy” was a Zoom meeting held on October 5 to connect people across Canada in discussions of the related efforts taking place across the country. It was hosted by the organizations Changing the Flow and Days for Girls Canada.
Advocates for menstrual equity are looking to capitalize on campaign promises made in the recent federal election. The Liberals promised to provide free tampons and pads in federally regulated workplaces, and to establish a $25 million Menstrual Equity Fund for women’s shelters, not-for-profits, community-based organizations, and youth-led organizations to make menstrual products available to vulnerable people.
I know what to do when you don’t have period products. You pray that you have toilet paper. I also know that toilet paper does not work well, and you exist in a state of constant anxiety about a leak until you find something better – meaning you tend to avoid situations where you may not be able to take care of your needs, and those needs are more pressing without proper products. That translates into academic, athletic, and professional inequities.
Therefore, I find the proposed Menstrual Equity Fund for not-for-profits and community-based organizations to be an important step towards equity for the most vulnerable Canadians. There was also consensus in the aforementioned Zoom discussion that free tampons and pads in federally regulated workplaces was more valuable as role modeling for other organizations than in providing for an actual need among federally employed workers. Period products need to be available free of charge through all local authorities, education providers, and businesses with public restrooms. In recognition of this, the Scottish Parliament enacted the Period Products Free Provision Act in January 2021. It is the first country in the world to provide free period products to all who need them.
In a smaller Canadian step, the Ontario government recently announced a partnership with Shopper’s Drug Mart to supply a total of six million free period products annually for the province’s schools. As critics have pointed out, while a positive step, it still falls short of fulfilling the need. In Canada, menstrual equity has been an excruciatingly slow process. From the years of effort to finally change the classification of menstrual products from luxury to essential and remove the GST in 2016, to the governments of British Columbia and Nova Scotia providing free period products to students in public education in 2019.
This is partly due to any decision-making about providing free period products in public restrooms ending up on the desk of a non-menstruator. They dominate the power positions. The non-menstruators tend to say things like: “Why should we offer free period products when we have to pay for razors? That is something my body does naturally, and I have to pay for it.”
Really? Are we going there? Here is my answer. Step one: remove all toilet paper from public washrooms. Step two: following your business luncheon, realize that you forgot to carry your personal stash of toilet paper today (and it’s too late). Step three: walk around for the rest of the afternoon hoping that no one will notice. Step four: they will notice. Step five: recommend that all public washrooms henceforth be supplied with free toilet paper.
Period care is not an issue on the same level as razors. Societal expectations regarding shaving habits can be changed, but menstruation carries on regardless. Another common objection to free period products in public restrooms is that people will take all the free products offered. Again: toilet paper. People tend to take only what they need.
Period products are just as necessary to people with periods as toilet paper is to all of us. Stop penalizing people with periods for a natural consequence of the reproductive cycle that supports human survival. It should be a priority to support our comfort and dignity in ways that accommodate our full participation in our communities.
Menstrual equity is not just about making period products more accessible. It is about addressing the stigma that surrounds menstruation in our society. The goal is that by re-educating ourselves to view menstruation as a neutral bodily function and/or a source of pride, we will enable the self-care, critical thinking and informed decision-making necessary to a healthy relationship with one’s body. This is my hope for the future. The Liberals’ promise is an important step toward this goal. As a society, we need to advocate for public policy that works toward achieving respectful and supportive communities.