After successful push for menstrual products in public schools, advocate seeks to help post-secondary students

A Vancouver mother who helped lead a push for free pads and tampons in schools says too many barriers remain for access to menstrual products.

All public schools in B.C. are required to have free dispensers for menstrual products by the beginning of 2020.

Selina Tribe, who is also a Douglas College geology instructor, says post-secondary students still face significant costs and uncertain access to the products they need to manage their menstrual periods.

"This originally came about because I found out in my daughter's elementary school that there wasn't any dispenser in the restroom for menstrual supplies," Tribe told Early Edition guest host Margaret Gallagher.

Noémie Moukanda/CBC-Radio Canada
Noémie Moukanda/CBC-Radio Canada

Tribe was concerned about the policy in New Westminster schools, where her daughter attended. It required students to go to the office and ask an adult for a tampon or pad when they needed one.

Some 'just go home or stay home'

Tribe said asking a stranger, possibly a man, presented cultural issues or extreme embarrassment for some students.

"They would just rather avoid it and perhaps just go home or stay home."

With free period products now assured for students up to Grade 12, Tribe said the next step should be to provide them at the post-secondary level as well.

At Tribe's own workplace, she found that several areas of the college have no menstrual supplies in the restrooms and about 25 per cent of the coin-operated dispensers don't work.

She said Douglas College administration has been receptive so far to her urging for a change to provide free tampons and pads.

With costs ranging from 25 cents to two dollars for a tampon or pad from a restroom dispenser, Tribe said girls and women face significant out-of-pocket expenses if they need to buy them at school.

"If you imagine a girl on her period, especially in the heavy days she might need to change two or three times a day. She might even need a tampon and a pad together."

Mike Zimmer/CBC
Mike Zimmer/CBC

To study how cost and access to menstrual products affects students, Tribe and another Douglas College faculty member, sociologist Lisa Smith, have founded the Menstrual Research Institute.

Its first public event, at Douglas College on March 10, will feature public presentations by advocates and researchers on menstrual equity.

Later in the year Tribe and Smith will present preliminary results of their own initial research at a conference in London, Ont.

Tribe said she is also seeking changes to federal and provincial labour codes, as well as building codes. The codes require public restrooms to provide free soap, toilet paper, paper towels and even urinals for men, but make no mention of menstrual supplies.