Youth Collective calls for Ontario to require free menstrual products on campus

By Faiza Amin

A collective of youth and student organizations is calling on the Ontario government to require colleges and universities to provide free menstrual products on campuses.

The Toronto Youth Cabinet held a press conference on Tuesday asked for immediate action to address “a rise in period poverty.”

“We’ve heard many times from our students the big need to tackle period poverty and many of them have been unable to access and finance their own provision of menstrual products,” said Stephen Mensah, Executive Director of the Toronto Youth Cabinet. “So we know this is a huge need, and it’s far past time that universities and colleges step up and address this need.”

A number of student groups, including Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, said students incur several costs throughout their education and affordability remains a consistent and leading area of concern.

“Access to menstrual products is a human right, menstrual equity continues to be an important issue that impacts undergraduate students across Ontario,” said Eunice Oladejo, President of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance. “Period poverty has significant consequences to the financial and social aspects of a person’s life, and these are two major areas post-secondary students particularly interact with.”

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has also added its voice to this call.

In a letter addressed to Jill Dunlop, the Minister of Colleges and Universities, the Chief Commissioner said students having access to free menstrual products would help promote gender equality and increase participation in school life.

“As you know, the issue of access to menstrual products does not end at Grade 12,” wrote Patricia DeGuire. “So, expanding this effort to post-secondary students is a necessary step that will help remove an equity barrier and support attendance.”

DeGuire also highlighted a recent gender study by Plan International Canada, that asked 3,000 respondents a series of questions on period stigma.

At least 23 per cent of respondents said they struggled to afford menstrual products. More than half missed work or school or declined social activities because of their period, and that number is even higher for women under 25. At least three quarters of respondents have had a period leak at work or school and 86 percent said they have been unprepared for the start of their period.

The Youth Cabinet along with the commissioner say the province’s initiatives should also address “the needs of transgender men and gender non-binary people as well.”

“When we’re thinking about the number of people who are impacted by this, we also have to consider trans men, non-binary, and people of diverse gender identities,” said Gabi Hentschke, Director of College Student Alliance. “But so far, the data largely available, does not account for such identities yet.”

Oladejo said affording menstrual products shouldn’t be an additional burden on finances, but that is the reality for many students.

“Given that racialized and students with disabilities are more likely to be low-income, this issue disproportionately affects some student groups more than others,” Oladejo said.

CityNews reached out to the Ministry of Colleges and Universities, asking for a response to the initiative and whether it would be considered. A spokesperson would only say that post-secondary institutions have full discretion to set their own policies.

The Toronto Youth Cabinet, who successfully advocated for these products to be in public schools last year, said they’ve met with Minister Jill Dunlop and staff.

“I think overall the sentiment is positive,” said Mensah. “I’m hopeful and optimistic that we will get a response from them and they will take action soon.”

There are a number of post-secondary institutions in Ontario that do provide free menstrual products on campus, including Brock University and Centennial college.

Earlier this month, the University of Toronto also launched a pilot project to provide products in washrooms and other spaces on the St. George Campus.

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