Toronto's youth advisory body calls for free menstrual products in all Ontario public schools

·3 min read
Toronto's Youth Cabinet launched a petition asking for the province to fully fund menstrual products in all publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools by the end of 2021, saying the matter comes down to equity, privacy and accessibility.  (Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)
Toronto's Youth Cabinet launched a petition asking for the province to fully fund menstrual products in all publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools by the end of 2021, saying the matter comes down to equity, privacy and accessibility. (Kate Bueckert/CBC - image credit)

The city's official youth advisory body is calling for free menstrual products to be made available in all public schools across Ontario.

Amid the movement to end "period poverty", Toronto's Youth Cabinet launched a petition asking for the province to fully fund menstrual products in all publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools by the end of 2021, saying the matter comes down to equity, privacy and accessibility.

"This is really a human rights issue.... It's really important that we make sure we take down any barriers that prevent people who menstruate from succeeding, and one of those barriers may be accessibility to period products," said Vanessa Erhirhie, a member of the educational working group with the Toronto Youth Cabinet.

The Ryerson University student said the products should be normalized and considered essential in all washrooms, adding that it shouldn't be a scramble to access a tampon or a pad when they're needed.

"We don't go to our locker for toilet paper and it should be the same for menstrual products," she said.

She says while products are available in some schools, they are often found at the front desk or the guidance counsellor's office, which still causes people stress and requires effort to access them.

The cabinet is asking that menstrual products be readily available in female washrooms, male washrooms and gender-neutral washrooms.

Two-thirds of Canadians impacted by inaccessible products

The online petition, which has garnered over 10,700 signatures as of Sunday, details how the lack of access to menstrual products can negatively impact students' school attendance, their social and emotional well-being, as well as contribute to the stigma that is attached to menstruation.

"Providing all students with convenient access to free menstrual products helps to support their full participation in school activities, reduces stigma and promotes gender equality," the petition reads.

A 2019 report conducted by Plan International Canada found that a third of Canadian women under the age of 25 say they've struggled to afford menstrual products, and almost two-thirds of people aged 14 to 55 missed out on an activity because of their periods and the lack of access to menstrual products.

Stephen Mensah, education lead for the Toronto Youth Cabinet, emphasized the need for the province not only to mandate free menstrual products, but to fund the overall initiative, including literacy on menstrual health to help end the stigma.

"No one should feel stigmatized over something that is a normal part of life.... Menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury," said Mensah .

'School boards cannot do this on their own'

The cabinet said the demands of this social movement should have been met a long time ago, but lack of funding remains an issue.

In 2019, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Canada's largest school board, passed a motion to ensure free menstrual products in their schools. But Mensah said he has spoken to student trustees from the TDSB who say the move hasn't been fully rolled out yet.

"School boards cannot do this on their own," said Mensah. "[They] lack the funding to necessarily sustain [this] for a long period, and to ensure all schools and all of their students can benefit from it. I think this enforces the need for the province to fully fund this initiative."

Mensah pointed to other provinces, including British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, which have made menstrual products free in all public schools.

In late January, the Ottawa Carleton District School Board voted unanimously to make tampons and pads available in its washrooms by September 2022.

Mensah said it's high time Ontario followed suit.

The Youth Cabinet will officially launch their initiative on Monday, which happens to be International Women's Day, in a joint statement with the province's four major teachers unions, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and other provincial stakeholders.

"We really want to send a clear, unified message to the province that this is something that needs to be done, and most importantly, it needs to happen now," said Mensah.