Student senate aims for menstrual equity

One third of menstruators under the age 25 say they struggle to afford period products, said Sabrina Baldini, the speaker from the Period Purse who delivered a presentation to over 80 students at Fort Frances High School (FFHS) last week on January 12.

In 2015, Canada removed the goods and service tax, otherwise known as the “tampon tax,” on menstrual products.

“So from 1991 to 2015 tampons were considered non-essential,” said Baldini, stating many similar facts that showed how periods were grossly stigmatized.

The issue of menstrual equity was first raised to attention by a grade 12 student named Arianna Hyatt, one of two “senates” selected to represent the student voice at FFHS.

“It has always kind of been a really big passion of mine, because you always hear people talking about it in sort of a gross way, which doesn’t really sit right with me,” she said.

When Hyatt saw that menstrual equity was on the discussion agenda for a meeting intended to better the school community, she immediately emailed Heather Campbell, RRDSB director of education, with her opinion on the matter.

“So that’s kind of when I started to take hold of it,” Hyatt said.

Hyatt wrote at length about the previous quality and restock of period care at the school, the student behavior surrounding period products, personal experiences of period stigma, and questioned why the school was charging students for period products when many don’t have access to period care.

Students have been misusing period products, impacting the cleanliness of washrooms at school, Hyatt said.

She said that wet tampons have been found in the sink and pads stuck to the ceiling and doors.

In her conversations with students, many felt that the pads and tampons were too uncomfortable to use.

The pads were too thick, and the tampons were one size only, often too large for the majority to use, and attached to a cardboard applicator.

“I think that comes from the quality of them—the misuse and the quality go hand in hand,” Hyatt said.

“If no one’s using them, why are they there? Which comes back to the quality and then another one would be again, if nobody’s using them, then what are we going to do with them? So I guess it was kind of a message for us to kind of do something about the period care in our school. And they were acting out, in a sense.”

Period stigma was a common experience for Hyatt and her peers, many of whom have been told that their natural cycle was “gross.”

On one occasion, in her first year of high school, Hyatt was stopped in the halls by an administrator for openly carrying a period product to the washroom.

“Back then I thought I was in trouble, but now [I think] that should never have happened and I openly carry period care to the washroom,” she wrote in the email.

While scrolling through TikTok, Hyatt discovered a potential solution and pitched it to Campbell. The August Advocates Program (APP) aims to supply schools with reliable period care, but is still working on expanding the program to Canada.

Hyatt hoped that for now, the school would order a large supply of period products and put up posters on the stalls to educate students and destigmatize periods, and to partner with The Period Purse, currently the only Canadian registered charity dealing with menstrual equity.

“We’re definitely going to put up posters soon,” she said.

Hyatt is one of two student senates for FFHS, selected as high-achieving students to represent the school on important issues. She attends meetings once a month with other “student senators” from the Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB) to discuss from a student’s perspective how to better the community.

Elisa Nguyen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times