Menstrual product pilot deserves wider implementation

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In 2016, women made up just over half the population in Canada—and many of them, whether willingly or otherwise, live with monthly menstrual cycles. But despite this high proportion, products like tampons and pads remain expensive and sometimes inaccessible.

In large part, this can be credited to cultural stigma surrounding the reproductive cycles of people who menstruate. And for some, a lack of access to menstrual products endangers their health and lifestyles. Substitutes like cotton balls or unsanitary fabrics can cause infection. Meanwhile, some feel unable to openly discuss a need for them, harming a person’s dignity. 

In December, Toronto city council put a menstrual product pilot project for marginalized women on the city agenda to rectify this gap in health service. Run by Shoppers Drug Mart, the pilot seeks to set up newspaper-style boxes full of tampons and pads, accessible by entering a four-digit pin code distributed by shelters and support services across the city.

This strategy is a step forward. People struggling with poverty can access food, housing, and counselling in many municipalities, at least temporarily. The same access doesn’t apply to expensive menstrual products.

Nobody wants to be embarrassed and anxious for three to seven days every month. Safe and sanitary options during that time shouldn’t be politicized or shamed. It’s wrong to punish over half the population economically for something they can’t control.

In a society still burdened by stigma around menstruation—along with the dual stigma of poverty—the ability to look like you’re picking up a newspaper rather than a tampon goes a long way toward giving poverty-stricken people some peace of mind.

Granted, accessing a four-digit code through shelters is restrictive to people who don’t use those services but face limited means. However, given this is a pilot project and not a final iteration, these wrinkles will hopefully be smoothed out with time. In the meantime, the initiative serves as a high-impact, low-cost solution to a pervasive social issue.

Nobody should have to choose between buying groceries and buying tampons. Beyond the Toronto area, the project should be implemented in Kingston—and at Queen’s—once expanded.

In Kingston alone, women make up 55 per cent of the homeless population. Access to hygienic products is critical if the City wishes to support and prioritize every citizen’s health.

Furthermore, on campus, we have food banks and counselling services. The menstrual product pilot is a principled extension of Queen’s responsibility to provide options for every student to feel safe and comfortable.

Toronto’s pilot project deserves support from policy-makers and leaders in our community. Menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury.

—Journal Editorial Board

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