The argument for free period products
The outcome of a basic healthcare need being marketed as an individual issue
Period poverty is more than a “women’s issue” and deserves to be treated as a human rights issue by all levels of Canadian government, businesses, and each and every person. If I had a quarter for every single time I was stuck in a bathroom and needed a tampon, I could have gotten a tampon instead of having to hope I can make it home before the flow gets too heavy, because who carries coins anymore?
People with periods should not have to be stuck in uncomfortable situations, have to leave school or work to go home and get period products, or be made to feel ashamed for having a period. Periods are natural, normal, and are experienced by billions of people across the globe. This means that there needs to be government provision to support the wellbeing, safety, and health of people in Canada, because the lack of effort and continued stigma is creating a toxic environment for everyone who menstruates.
This issue can be compared to toilet paper or hand soap in a public washroom. Each person is not made to pay for those things as they enter a public washroom because they are deemed necessary. There is an understanding that public washrooms are a necessity because sometimes you just need to go – it’s impossible to “hold” your period, so why are period products not provided in the same capacity? Why is a tampon or pad not deemed necessary? It is equally as necessary as toilet paper or hand soap, equally as difficult to have with you at all times, yet the argument can be made that governments and companies do not care about the well-being of those with periods because periods have been made out to be a personal issue.
Period products should be free in all washrooms to ensure that anyone with a period is able to have their needs met. I have experienced and heard horror stories of people who unexpectedly got their period in a public place and had no quarter for the dispenser, or the dispenser was empty, and they had to resort to uncomfortable, unhealthy practices to keep themselves protected for the day – this is unacceptable.
Although providing pads, tampons, wipes, etc. will not end stigma surrounding periods, it will begin to normalize seeing the products in public spaces and will also make the lives of those in need of products much easier, as they will have this basic need provided for. The stigma that surrounds periods is dangerous as there are not sufficient supports in place for those with periods, but on a larger scale this is an intersectional issue as there is an added level of challenges for those who cannot afford (the insanely overpriced) period products.
There are many people who are forced to stay home from work or school because they cannot afford the necessary products to leave their home during their period. This continues the cycle of poverty by directly limiting their already inadequate income, and continues to put those who are facing systemic barriers at a greater disadvantage. If period products were provided in workplaces and schools, everyone would be able to enter their workplace or place of learning and feel safe, protected, and comfortable.
Additionally, period poverty should be a political issue – a federal political issue because it impacts the lives of people across Canada. The government needs to step in and provide strategic supports to ensure that employment, education, healthcare, and many more systems can continue to support Canadians rather than put people at a disadvantage compared to their peers who don’t experience menstruation.
Each and every institution in Canada is built to support a certain group of people – cisgender, straight, upper-middle class white males. I would argue that if this demographic were experiencing the monthly occurrence of pain, headaches, mood swings, fatigue, bleeding, and so on for three-to-five decades of their lives, they would be provided paid sick leave, free products, and whatever else they require (Editor’s note: just look at how easy it is to access pills for erectile dysfunction versus birth control).
Now, if I reflect on Canada’s federal commitments to equity and equality, it makes sense to me that period products would be available in all washrooms to acknowledge that it is not just cisgender women that can have a menstrual cycle. I will emphasize the idea of ending stigma and educating people – it is so important that “different” is normalized and we all get very comfortable with being uncomfortable, because without exploring new ideas and topics, we are just hiding under blinders of ignorance.
With that in mind, I encourage you to think about how period products make you feel. I encourage you to think about the TikToks that show a boyfriend/partner going into a store to get fake period products for his girlfriend/partner, or the movies that show men uncomfortably searching through the tampons and pads to find what their wife or daughter need. All of these media influences have continued to unnecessarily perpetuate the stigma and ignorance that surrounds periods and period products.
Period products should be free, accessible, and safe for all people to access, and all levels of government need to ensure that they are doing their part to provide for this basic healthcare aspect of human rights.