McGill med students launch campaign to get free menstrual products in Quebec schools

Should menstrual hygiene products be available to primary and high school students for free in Quebec schools?

Three medical students from McGill University — Carolanne Gagnon, Alicia Lessard and Ariane Litalien — think so and they're lobbying the provincial government to make it happen.

Litalien, who is studying obstetrics and gynecology, said a significant number of Canadian girls have missed school because they don't have menstrual hygiene products.

Last week, ​​​​​​Litalien submitted a petition to the National Assembly that demanded free menstrual products be offered in Quebec schools. It has gathered around 150 signatures so far.

"This equalizes the playing field for everyone. Nobody should have to miss school because they can't access those products," she told CBC's Daybreak.

A similar initiative was passed recently in British Columbia. Schools in the province will have to offer the free products by the end of the year. 

Federally regulated workplaces could also be forced to offer free menstrual products, under a measure currently being considered by Ottawa. 

Menstrual products are expensive, advocate says

"We're talking about tampons. We're talking about pads," said Litalien.

"But we're also asking the government to subsidize reusable menstrual products, such as menstrual cups and reusable pads, because we want to be environmentally friendly."

Subsidized reusable menstrual products are not a new concept. Several Montreal boroughs already offer this service to residents, as do other municipalities in the province.

Litalien said the disposable products would, ideally, be available in school bathrooms belonging to both sexes, allowing transgender and non-binary people to have access.

Isaac Olson/CBC

Offering free hygiene products, she said, will not only balance out inequalities between men and people who menstruate, but it will also reduce "period poverty."

That's the term used to describe being unable to afford hygiene products. Litalien said period poverty forces many to miss school or work, and they get fewer opportunities to succeed as a result.

"Tampons are definitely expensive. It's something you have to buy every month," she said. "Certainly a segment of the population can't afford it."