Inspiring

Free tampons for homeless women in Toronto

In Canada, 1 in 3 women under 25 have struggled to afford menstrual products, according to a report.

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Two Shoppers Drug Mart locations in Toronto could soon be equipped with dispensers of free menstrual hygiene products, if an initiative led by City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam and Shoppers Drug Mart's Community Investment program is successful.

“This is really an issue around equity,” Wong-Tam told Global Citizen. “Menstruating is an involuntary bodily function.”

The councillor points out that standard essentials in bathrooms in Toronto should include more than just toilet paper and soap. Why shouldn’t menstrual products make the cut as essentials?

What that comes down to, Wong-Tam said, is non-menstruators being the ones making the plans.

“If women were in the rooms making those decisions, perhaps menstrual products would be widely available,” she said.

Shoppers Drug Mart will make the dispensers out of refurbished newspaper boxes that could be accessed with a PIN code. PIN codes will be distributed at local shelters, according to a letter to city council from Lisa Gibbs, Shoppers' Community Investment director.

For women experiencing homelessness or living on low incomes, having to buy menstrual products could mean choosing between food or tampons. And when the products aren’t made available at shelters or in bathrooms, as Wong-Tam points out, it means having to ask for them, which she feels is an unfair position to put someone in.

Toronto’s Wong-Tam isn’t the only political leader to take this stance.

The NDP adopted a resolution at their federal convention in February declaring that menstrual products should be free, HuffPost Canada reported.

“Tampon and pads should be treated just like toilet paper,” said Tiffany Balducci, party delegate from the Durham Labour Council. “They serve a similar purpose — items that tend to our everyday, normal bodily functions.”

Shoppers Drug Mart has already piloted this program in the city “to great effect,” according to the motion filed by Wong-Tam.

Wong-Tam said that the city council supports the initiative already and that the new motion, which is moving forward, was essentially created to waive the installation fees for the boxes.

She also noted that the City of Toronto is exploring the feasibility of providing free menstrual products in all city-run and city-funded facilities like shelters, drop-in spaces, and community centres.

Frontline workers at these facilities are lacking funds for these products and sometimes need to put out social media posts asking for donations, Wong-Tam said. She wants to prevent the need for that in the city.

Wong-Tam first became interested in period poverty when she learned about the Period Purse, an organization tackling period poverty in Canada. Before then, she had not realized the extent of the issue.

Every year, about 235,000 people experience homelessness and almost 5 million people live in poverty in Canada. Pads and tampons are not luxuries — they are health products that more than half the population will require at some point in their life. Ensuring access to menstrual hygiene is not only important for gender equality, but also interest of public health.

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