Taking a deeper look at the lack of access to menstrual products, and the groups on campus fighting for menstrual equity.
Can you imagine living in a world where you would have to pay to use toilet paper in a public restroom? No, right? It sounds ridiculous. We are so accustomed to having toilet paper free of charge, available in all public restrooms. Similar to toilet paper, sanitary products are a part of basic hygiene. Menstruation is not a choice or a switch people can turn on or off – just like needing to use the restroom.
Upholding hygiene standards leads to a reduction in viruses and diseases being spread, which in turn improves public health. We don’t expect people to walk around with rolls of toilet paper on them, yet we have this same expectation for people who menstruate. Period products are basic essentials in the same manner that toilet paper is. The USask community refuses to accept our current reality, and so should you.
As you are reading this article there are 800 million people around the world on their periods. Generally, menarche – the first instance of menstruation – occurs between the ages of 11 to 14 and periods end around the age of 50 at menopause. A period is when the endometrium, the innermost layer of the uterus, leaves the body through the vagina. Menstruation cycles aren’t always consistent to a month-timeline and can vary with diet, hormone, exercise and even birth control.
Menstruation affects girls, women, transgender men and non-binary people. Menstrual equity is a global issue as it does not discriminate based on nationality, religion or ethnicity and therefore needs to be solved by every individual.
Access to menstrual products are essential to menstrual hygiene. These products decrease the risk of infections, including reproductive and urinary tract infections. However, not everyone across Canada has access to these products. A survey by Plan International Canada in 2019 found that one-in-two Canadian girls and women reported occasionally missing an activity because of concerns about a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products. There are many reasons for a lack of access to menstrual products, including financial and social barriers.
Menstrual products usage is indisputable, and over time other issues or questions regarding sustainability have arisen. In fact, innovation around climate change is at the forefront of menstrual conversations as the majority of pads and tampons (two main menstruation products) use non-reusable plastic substances in their design. Recent studies have looked into finding low-cost biodegradable absorbents that could be used instead, such as bamboo wadding. Interestingly, bamboo wadding has the highest absorption index, even beating out commercial sanitary pads. It’s important that more funding be put towards research for more accessible and sustainable practices.
In Canada, people who menstruate can spend $6,000 on menstrual supplies in their lifetime, with this number doubling to $12,000 for people living in rural communities. The prices climb to unaffordable rates in remote Indigenous communities where tampons can cost between $16 to $45. With one-third of Canadian women under 25 struggling to afford menstrual products, it’s about time we do something about period poverty.
In 2015, the Government of Canada removed the Goods and Services Tax and the Government of Saskatchewan removed the Provincial Sales Tax from menstrual products. Removing what is known as the “pink tax” is a step in making period products more accessible. The federal government has announced that all federal workplaces will have access to free menstrual products starting December 15, 2023.
USask has also made an effort to increase access to menstrual products for its community. Since the summer of 2023, the USask’s Period Equity Project supplies menstrual products in more than 70 male, female and gender-neutral designated washrooms at the university. This project was put into place after consultation with students and student groups at USask by the Office of the Provost and Vice-President Academic.
The Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Project Specialist Tasnim Jaisee commented,“The Period Equity Project has received so much positive feedback form our USask students, staff and faculty. The project addresses accessibility and equity while seeking to enhance the health and wellbeing of members of our community. We are grateful for the support our campus has given to the initiatives’s launch. Period equity matters and together we’re building a more accessible and inclusive campus.”
Find the list of washrooms stocked with menstrual hygiene products here.
On our campus at the University of Saskatchewan, it only takes a quick glance to see several student-led organizations working towards menstrual equity, including USask Menstrual Project (UMP) and the USSU Women’s Center. In particular, UMP is an organization which is dedicated to raising awareness for menstrual health.
The UMP was founded to reduce stigma, promote access and to create a community to advocate for menstrual equity. This organization has worked with local organizations like the Moon Time Sisters and the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union to promote their initiatives. In March of this year, they helped host the Women in Leadership Gala. UMP recognizes the importance of social advocacy and action. They have led fundraisers and hosted packing parties, which purchase and pack menstrual products to send to communities around Saskatchewan. If you’re interested in joining the group or learning more, you can find them on Instagram @usaskmenstrualproject, and they accept general members year-round.
The truth is that even with student-led organizations and the university’s support, there is still work to be done regarding this issue on a provincial, national and international scale. So what can you do?
On November 4th, UMP is helping host a packing party at Mayfair Church from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m., where they will purchase and pack menstrual products that will then be shipped to communities around our province of Saskatchewan. We hope to see you packing and partying with us very soon!
It takes each member of our community to fight for a reality where period products are not thought of as a luxury item, but a given, like toilet paper. Together we can end period poverty.