‘Removing the stigma’: City of Mississauga allocating free menstrual products

The city of Mississauga is rolling out a program that will see pads and tampons available for free at dozens of facilities. Faiza Amin on how the initiative is hoping to address period poverty in the region.

By Patricia D'Cunha and Faiza Amin

Free menstrual products are being rolled out in at least one universal and/or female washroom at several facilities in Mississauga in an effort to combat period poverty, but one advocacy group says more can be done to address menstrual equity.

Mississauga officials said the products are “now available” in city-run facilities and that all dispensers will be installed by the end of next month.

“Dispensers have been installed in identified city facilities where these products can be most effective to serve the community, such as community centres, libraries, transit terminals and park washrooms,” said Jodi Robillos, Commissioner of Community Services.

Dispensers with free menstrual products in City of Mississauga facilities

Dispensers with free menstrual products will be installed in City of Mississauga facilities at the end of October. HANDOUT/City of Mississauga

“No one should experience period poverty, regardless of their age or income. We are committed to removing these barriers, and providing free and easy access to those who need these supplies is the first step,” Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said in a release.

Mississauga council passed a motion back in April to start stocking public washrooms at city-run facilities with tampons and pads free of charge. The facilities include:

  • Recreation facilities, including community centres, golf courses and arenas
  • Libraries
  • Park washrooms in select locations
  • Culture facilities, including Meadowvale Theatre, Small Arms Inspection Building, Bradley Museum, Benares Historic House, Living Arts Centre and Mississauga Celebration Square
  • Paramount Fine Foods Centre
  • Mississauga Civic Centre (City Hall)
  • City Centre Transit Terminal (CCTT)
  • Ontario Court of Justice

“A big piece of this is just removing the stigma around talking about periods.”

Kristina Zietsma, Director of Recreation at the City of Mississauga, told CityNews on Tuesday that the products will be available in 86 washrooms, in at least one washroom in each of those facilities.

“Our aim in Mississauga is really to look to remove barriers for folks who might not have access and remove those barriers to participation in our facilities. Really, no different than having access to toilet paper or paper towels, it’s really a basic essential need for period products,” Zietsma said.

Zietsma said the city would be getting the products from their regular suppliers and that the supply in washroom dispensers will be monitored daily by facility staff and replenished as required.

City officials said they would be reviewing future locations for the dispensers and installing them based on demand and operating costs.

Zietsma said the initial implementation of the dispensers and products cost 170,000 with an annual operating cost of 100,000, which will be managed through the operating budget.

In addressing period poverty, she said the City of Mississauga hopes it is one more means for those in need to access pads and tampons and that it will lead to a ripple effect within the community for other organizations to follow suit.

“A big piece of this is just removing the stigma around talking about periods. For years it’s been an uncomfortable conversation, but it is a reality.”

Back in April, Zietsma told CityNews they started the process back in 2020, but it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province announced last year that it would provide free menstrual products to public schools. Post-secondary students have also pushed to have their institutions offer the same.

“Since launching our partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart, approximately six million menstrual products were distributed to school boards, school authorities and consortium during the 2021-22 school year. Shipments are already underway for the 2022-23 school year,” a spokesperson for Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement on Tuesday.

The province said three of the 77 school boards, school authorities and consortium didn’t take the products since they already have existing free menstrual product programs.

In Toronto, the City is required to provide menstrual products to its shelters, 24-hour respite sites and 24-hour women’s drop-in centres, as per the Toronto Shelter Standards and Toronto 24-Hour Respite Site Standards policies. Currently, free menstrual products are not offered at Toronto-run community recreation centres.

The Toronto Public Library (TPL) and The Period Purse — a charity that provides education, outreach and advocacy for period poverty and menstrual equity — collaborated on the Period Equity Pilot to provide free menstrual products at Sanderson and Malvern libraries. The pilot, which was launched the week of June 27, will run for six months.

“TPL has found a steady use of product. It’s still too early to quantify impact in a meaningful way, but TPL will have a full report at the end of the year,” the City said in a statement.

More can be done for period poverty: group

Dani Stover, a volunteer for The Period Purse said while it is a great step that the City of Mississauga has taken, more can be done, such as rolling it out in all schools across the country and making it less of a “taboo topic.”

Based on the latest data, she said one in three young people are not able to afford menstrual products due to rising costs, adding that “these barriers are heightened right now.”

“It’s a health issue when it comes down to it. People are using other methods, maybe socks, maybe newspaper … that can impact your reproductive health,” Stover said.

“We explain period poverty as the barriers that stop people from accessing the products they need for their body, for their cycles, in order to have a healthy period.”

In the last five years, the group has distributed over 3.7 million period products across Canada.

With files from Meredith Bond and Erica Natividad of CityNews

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