In a bid to end ‘period poverty,’ students are calling on the province to require that colleges and universities provide free menstrual products campus wide — and that the government foot the bill if schools can’t cover the costs.
They say tackling period poverty — the inability to afford menstrual products — is key because not being able to access items, such as pads and tampons, can negatively impact students’ attendance and participation in activities.
“For far too many, feminine hygiene products are a financial burden and going without them can be painful and embarrassing,” said Stephen Mensah, executive director of the Toronto Youth Cabinet, the city’s official youth advisory body.
“There should be no stigma around something as fundamental as menstruation. Menstrual products are a necessity and not a luxury,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
Also there to show support were representatives of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and the College Student Alliance. They, along with all of Ontario’s 44 post-secondary student unions, and others, have penned a letter to the provincial government calling for “immediate action” on this issue.
The call for free menstrual products on campuses, comes after the province announced last fall that school boards would receive them free of charge for elementary and high school students.
Eunice Oladejo, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, said because racialized students and those with disabilities are more likely to be low-income, this issue disproportionately affects some student groups more than others. She also noted that menstrual products can be twice as costly in rural and northern communities.
“A lack of access to these products should not impede on a student’s engagement with higher education, but the truth is that it does,” said Oladejo.
Speaking with reporters at Queen’s Park, Mensah said when people can’t access menstrual products “they are more likely to miss out (on) school and work, face higher health risks, and struggle to reach their full potential.”
Mensah, a Ryerson University student, said he’d like to see post-secondary schools pay for the products. But when they can’t afford to, the province should help to pay because “we don’t want tuition being raised.”
In Canada, no province requires that post-secondary schools provide free menstrual products. In Ontario, post-secondary institutions are autonomous and have full discretion to maintain policies on their campuses. There are individual colleges and universities that provide the products for free, such Centennial College, Brock University and the University of Toronto (Scarborough). Also, some student unions and student groups have taken it upon themselves to offer these products.
A report by Plan International Canada found that one-third of Canadian women under the age of 25 said they have struggled to pay for menstrual products.
In October, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart, which will provide six million free menstrual pads a year, for the next three years to school boards. Prior to that announcement, some school boards were already providing free menstrual products to students.
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