Schools provide menstrual products to remove barriers and break stigma

The province is also funding a United Way pilot project to provide free menstrual products to vulnerable school students. United Way hopes to see menstrual products available in all facilities, schools and workplaces.

A school division in St. Albert is helping to eliminate the stigma around menstruation.

Schools in the Greater St. Albert Catholic School Division will soon be offering students free menstrual products in washrooms as part of an initiative to break down barriers for those on their period.

“I think that’s what really comes down to making women feel comfortable in the environment that they’re in. I mean, I can compare it to getting a band-aid or access to a paper towel or toilet paper, like that’s really just a human right,” said Leisa Michael, a teacher at Bertha Kennedy and project manager for the initiative.

Michael said they want to make sure the learning environment is accessible to all students. One way is to offer period products and trash cans in all bathrooms.

Dispensers and disposable bins will be installed throughout December and January. Michael hopes the installation will be complete by this spring.

“We just wanted to make sure the girls had access to the bins for more privacy in the gender-neutral and gender-neutral bathrooms. So in every bathroom, and we wanted to make sure we removed the barrier of menstruating women asking for products,” she said.

Michael said many schools in the school division offer free products to students in the office, but a student would have to request it.

“We wanted to remove the hurdle of having them ask,” she said.

Michael, who is also the chair of Women in Leadership for the local Alberta Teachers’ Association, said they held a Women in Leadership event earlier this year that inspired many teachers in the division.

“About nine months ago, we held a Woman in Leadership event, which consisted of a screening of a film called Pandora’s box. It is a documentary about the global pandemic of menstrual inequality and menstrual poverty,” she said.

After the screening, Michael said “a lot of teachers” started thinking about ways to minimize menstrual inequality in their own schools.

“We went to our divisional board, got their support, and then a committee was formed to really try to figure out how we can remove the barrier and get access to free products in the bathroom,” she said.

Michael said the project has a budget of approximately $9,000 for disposal and distribution bins and $1,800 per year per school; however, some schools receive donations from groceries and parent councils.

“Whenever we can remove the barrier and provide access to menstrual hygiene products, we know that schools are truly a learning environment and when we can provide these products and all access for girls and more access to learning, the better. We want to foster inclusive learning environments and promote equity,” said Michael.

Last October, the province announced it would invest $260,000 in the Period Promise pilot project, a United Way initiative that will also provide free menstrual products to youth in 50 schools with the most vulnerable populations.

“Government funding will support the installation of vintage bathroom dispensers and an education campaign. The campaign’s goal is to de-stigmatize women’s health issues, including menstruation, in schools, workplaces and community organizations,” a press release about the project reads.

Carrie-Ann Lunde, media relations manager for United Way, said Period Promise’s long-term vision is to have menstrual products “available in all facilities, schools and workplaces so people don’t never have to choose between buying food or buying products.”

Lunde said that according to data United Way has collected from Statistics Canada, nearly a quarter of menstruating people in Canada say they cannot afford products for themselves or their children.

“There’s also significant data that shows that when people don’t have access to menstrual products, they miss out on schoolwork or other opportunities to really participate in the community,” she said.

Lunde said the average person spends an average of about $5,500 on menstrual products, not including the cost of pain relief products, laundry detergent and other supplies.

People in vulnerable situations who cannot afford products, who do not have access to clean products, or who use a product for too long may face health risks.

“It’s a reality for people in vulnerable situations, that’s what we’re trying to address,” she said.

Lunde said United Way uses a “multi-pronged approach” in terms of working with government and businesses to get products into schools and workplaces, so there are multiple points of access.

“It really takes multiple levels of government and community agencies and businesses to be able to really bring about this level of change,” she said.

The stigma of menstruation is itself complex, Lunde said.

“(Stigma) can be subtle and dependent on different ethnic or cultural backgrounds…trying to normalize access to menstrual products can really help break that taboo, so it’s not something you have to hide in your sleeve because you go to the toilet, but it is available in the toilet.

About Marilyn Perkins

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