B.C.’s accessible period products problem prompts province-wide campaign

The harsh reality of inflation and stigma is causing some people to choose between buying food or menstrual products, according to the United Way British Columbia (UWBC).

The organization is nearing the end of a province-wide campaign to not only gather a minimum of 700,000 products to anyone who needs them, but to open the conversation around menstruation.

Neal Adolph, provincial director of labour participation with UWBC, says more British Columbians are seeking community organizations to access tampons, pads, cups, underwear, reusable pads, etc.

“There’s definitely more and more demand and more and more interest from community members because, for example, some of the organizations we provide product to are food banks or United Way’s local food hubs and they’re seeing an increase in the number of people who are needing to access service,” Adolph said.

“As a result, their dependence on access to food, but also cleaning supplies, menstrual supplies, toilet paper, all sorts of things — they’re really coming to these community organizations looking for more. That is the impact inflation is having on people who are really on the cusp of living at the poverty line or below it,” Adolph explained.

“People who menstruate and who don’t have access to free products experience huge amounts of anxiety because, otherwise, they’re staying at home, staying in bed, sitting on a toilet for five to seven days every single month. The access of free product often times means they can go to work, go to school [and] go to the library with their families.”

Adolph says there is an urgent need to help specific groups that are the most vulnerable.

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“People living with disabilities … whether it’s physical or mental disabilities are really struggling to afford purchasing product or not knowing where they can go to get product they can actually afford.”

Adding, “we see the exact same thing pop up with Indigenous populations, families with an annual income of less than $40,000 and… rural and remote communities experience extreme vulnerability because sometimes they have one point of access for menstrual products, they can be more expensive because of transportation costs and inflation within the community.”

Adolph says unfortunately in some cases, even if the products are available, asking for them still carries stigma.

“Going to a community organization and asking for help takes a lot of courage and willingness to step forward. That’s really tough for people to do and one of the major barriers. But when people have access to free product and it’s good quality product, whether it’s reusable or disposable, they indicate it has a huge impact on their health and well-being,” he said.

UWBC recently did some research, funded by the provincial government, on period poverty and discovered some startling statistics.

“It basically indicated that at some point in people’s lives, if they are a person who menstruates in B.C., 51 per cent of them struggle with purchasing product for themselves or for their dependent at some point in their life. This is a much more common issue than people really appreciate or understand, largely because of that stigma around menstruation prevents us from talking about it.”

B.C. schools required to stock products

The need for products is also greater now as school is about to end. Adolph is calling out school districts — which were provincially mandated to provide free products in 2019 — saying there are inconsistencies when it comes to ensuring students have the access they need.

In a statement, the B.C. government says, “as of Fall 2020, all 60 school districts confirmed that they had dispensers in place and are providing free menstrual products in school washrooms. Funding and administration of these programs are now the responsibility of individual school districts.”

The region’s two biggest school districts back that up.

“Every school in the district has at least one product dispenser installed in either a girls or universal washroom for free access to feminine hygiene products. Currently, there are approximately 130 feminine hygiene product dispensers throughout the district.

In addition, “the school office also has menstrual products available at a student’s request,” said the Vancouver School Board in a statement to CityNews.

“Our district is committed to ensuring students have free, easy and discreet access to pads and tampons when they need them. In the 2019/20 school year, our district installed more than 260 dispensers and custodians refill products in each of these dispensers as required. Products are purchased by each school using their supply budgets, similar to how hand soap or toilet paper is purchased. If students notice a dispenser does not have any product, we encourage them to go to the office and let the staff know so it can be refilled,” Surrey Schools said.

The campaign has collected half of its goal so far.

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