Period poverty in Canada
By Brittany Stuckless
Posted on December 20, 2021
There is an unfair stigma attached to people who menstruate. Period products can be too expensive, and people who menstruate still face shame, stress, and a lack of resources for something their body does naturally. Let’s look into how this stigma affects newcomers and how period poverty needs to change.
What is period poverty?
Simply put, period poverty means a lack of access to menstrual products. People who menstruate often resort to unhealthy practices when they cannot afford products such as pads, tampons, panty liners, and more. Shoppers Drug Mart, a major pharmacy chain in Canada, offers more detailed information.
The Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry notes that menstruating Canadians typically spend $6000 throughout their lifetime on menstruation products. Let’s use a rough estimate to figure out how much that would be per year. If someone menstruates from age 12 to 50, that’s roughly 40 years, costing around $150 per year.
Period products are sometimes available in public bathrooms in Canada; however, they’re usually not. $150 per year is a large amount of money to spend on something your body does without a choice. Furthermore, period products are essential in the same way as toilet paper and hand soap, which are both always available in public bathrooms.
Period poverty also refers to a lack of education about periods. It includes the effect a lack of products and education can have on people who menstruate—for instance, not attending school, work and several activities because you don’t have these products. All of these factors create the issue of period poverty and period shame.
Who is affected by period poverty?
Period poverty affects around a quarter of menstruators in Canada. At a bare minimum, at least a quarter of women, teenage girls, and people who menstruate have experienced the struggle to afford period products. Low-income families and neglected or abused teenagers are also more likely to be affected by period poverty. Newcomers from cultural backgrounds that view periods negatively are also at-risk.
Effects of period poverty
- Toxic-shock syndrome (using a tampon for too long)
- Poor attendance in school or university
- Missing work and losing your job
- Using uncomfortable or unsanitary alternatives to tampons and pads, like toilet paper
- Pain and discomfort
- Depression and anxiety
How to change period poverty
Tax-free or cost-free period products
In Canada, you have to pay tax when you buy period products. While this is similar to products like toilet paper, it puts people who menstruate at more of a financial disadvantage than people who don’t. Similarly, period products costing money in the first place puts people who menstruate at an economic disadvantage.
Some countries, like Scotland, are taking a stand and eliminating the cost of period products. They note the importance of ending period poverty and having these products available for anyone who needs them. Hopefully, this will push Canada to do the same in the near future.
Public bathroom availability
Period products should be readily available in Canadian public bathrooms to anyone who needs them. Toilet paper is readily available, as everyone needs to use it. With a large portion of the population regularly menstruating, it’s unfair not to include period products as well. Public availability will also help those struggling financially.
Even in 2021, there is still a common perception that periods are unsanitary and shouldn’t be a part of conversations. More specifically, the Canadian Public Health Association notes that some cultures view periods as taboo. This stigma makes people who menstruate feel ashamed about their body’s natural cycle. This shame makes someone less likely to speak up if they can’t afford menstrual products.
A lack of period acceptance only makes the problem of period poverty much worse for newcomers in Canada. Discussions about periods should be open and happen without shame, especially within communities with a history of treating the topic as taboo.
Period poverty should be concerning for everyone, and there are several ways society can take action and make a change. One way to do so is by reaching out to a local representative (member of parliament or MP). Ourcommons.ca has a contact page where people can search for the MP in their area. Contacting an MP is one of the most direct ways to express concerns about readily available period products.
Other ways to take action in the fight against period poverty include donating to several charities(listed below). Teachers and people with social influence can also work towards educating kids more frequently about periods. This education will work to fight the stigma associated with periods and normalize them more. Other ways to help include:
- Signing and sharing petitions on social media.
- Organizing and attending events that raise awareness.
- Listening to those most vulnerable and continuing to learn about period poverty.
Period poverty: Resources and charities
- The Period Purse Charity
- Period Promise
- Period Poverty in Canada
- Oxfam Canada: Let’s end period poverty
- Help a Girl Out