It goes by many aliases — “Aunt Flo”, “that time of the month” and “on the rag”. But there’s very little conversation about it in the media as it has long been associated with impurity and disgust.
A new campus group, Usask Menstrual Project, is starting this Fall Term and they want to talk about periods to change this perspective. They will be specifically addressing period poverty — a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity and public health.
Period poverty describes the prevalent inaccessibility to menstrual hygiene products, such as pads, tampons and liners. When discussing poverty, it’s usually examined in the context of housing and food security. It is often overlooked in the context of menstrual hygiene, thus, it may be viewed as a flippant topic in political discussions. The conversation around period poverty aims to create a dialogue to reduce stigma and spread proper education about menstruation.
Although it is a simple biological process, menstruation is complicated due to social and economic barriers. Menstrual products are treated as luxury items, making them taxable products in many parts of the world. Although some countries have lifted this “pink tax”, others continue to use it to raise the cost of items that are of first necessity to people who menstruate. The high cost of these products significantly impacts low-income and marginalized individuals, especially those experiencing homelessness.
It is clear that there is a need to make sustainable sanitary products more affordable and tax-free. This fact cannot be overlooked, especially when people in rural communities in northern Canada sometimes pay double the price that people pay for the same products in urban areas like Toronto.
To put into perspective, it is estimated that in Canada, people on average spend $6,000 in their lifetime on menstrual hygiene products. This shows how important it is to study period poverty through an intersectional lens so that every individual affected is provided with the most appropriate resources.
With the lack of access to these products, people have to resort to unhygienic alternatives such as rags, paper towels and reused pads. This puts them at a greater risk for urogenital infections and uncomfortable side effects like skin irritation. Not only does it put their physical well-being at risk, it can also lead to poor mental health since people experiencing period poverty aren’t able to properly participate at school, work and in their community.
It will take more than free menstrual pads to end period poverty. We can provide menstruators all over the world the proper tools to menstruate comfortably, but this is one part of the solution.
We must also become more comfortable with initiating conversations surrounding menstrual health and dispose of the idea that periods are a topic to be avoided.
Discriminatory policy around period products institutionalize the cultural shame around menstruation. We must create a safe space for menstruators to voice their concerns about their well-being. Policies must then be enforced to make menstrual products, sanitation and hygiene easily accessible through policy that supports menstrual equity.
It is for these reasons that the Usask Menstrual Project aims to create such spaces for discussions about periods and to initiate local action through fundraisers. The group will hold fundraisers throughout the school year to the end of making monetary and period product donations.
The donations will be given to local organizations such as OUTSaskatoon, SWITCH and Moon Time Sisters to help individuals within Saskatoon and remote northern communities access menstrual products that they otherwise could not afford.
By normalizing these constructive conversations surrounding menstrual health, we preserve the security and dignity of billions of menstruators around the globe.