It has been estimated that approximately 800 million girls and women globally are menstruating on any given day. However, they often do so in shame and secrecy, facing a lack of products and resources that make managing menstruation with dignity difficult. This discrimination against menstruating women, sometimes called "period poverty", is a significant issue, not only in developing countries where women's health and human rights may be seen as more contentious, but also in developed countries like Canada.
Period poverty refers to the struggle many girls and women face in accessing and affording safe and reliable menstrual products. This term also describes the increased economic vulnerability menstruating individuals experience because of the high costs of menstrual products.
It is estimated that Canadian women spend up to $6,000 on menstrual hygiene products over the course of their lifetimes. Women who live in rural and Northern communities can pay up to double to price for the same products as women who live in larger cities, like Toronto and Vancouver. Consequently, some women may find it difficult to afford these necessities. In an effort to save costs, these women may see no other option but to engage in unsanitary behaviours, such as using the same pad or tampon for a prolonged period of time. These practices can lead to detrimental health outcomes, such as increased risk of lower reproductive tract infections and associated complications, like toxic shock syndrome, a condition that can be fatal.
In 2015, Canada eliminated the tax on menstrual hygiene products. However, menstrual product costs still prohibit Canadian women, particularly those belonging to homeless, low-income, marginalised, and vulnerable groups, from accessing essential items they need. In fact, studies have shown that, in 2019, approximately 34 percent of girls and women in Canada had to often or occasionally make budgetary sacrifices on food, living experiences, and other essentials, in order to afford menstrual products. Additionally, a further 63 percent have regularly or occasionally missed an activity because of their period or concerns about not being able to access menstrual hygiene products or proper facilities.
In light of these trends, there is a growing Canadian movement to tackle period poverty. A number of policies and programs have been implemented to fight costs and stigma related to menstruation. In October 2021, the Government of Ontario began a partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart to increase menstrual supplies. Over the next three years, the government will distribute six million free menstrual products per school year to school boards. This action made Ontario the first of four provinces to actively fight period poverty in Canada. Similar to Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island also provide free menstrual products in schools. Furthermore, the Canadian Government is developing policies which will enable distribution of free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces.
These initiatives are a reassuring start, but more needs to be done, particularly in the realm of reducing menstrual stigma. The ultimate goal is to move toward a society in which menstruation is viewed as noting more than natural and normal.
By Ishita Aggarwal, Thrive Law Changer