Red Alert: Free the Flow
I am sure that no one has ever entered a school washroom across our province expecting toilet paper to not be available. I would assume that no student has ever carried an emergency roll of it in their backpack, perhaps two just in case. It would be safe to say that most of us have never tried to stuff a wad of toilet paper in our pocket discreetly on the way to the restroom.
Now imagine that all these seemingly ridiculous scenarios were brought to life. That something so mundane and essential to your personal hygiene and regular bodily functions would not be provided for you in your school washroom.
This is the reality of young girls and women across our school boards here in Ontario. No, it is not an emergency toilet paper roll that we need to carry with us, but feminine hygiene products; tampons and sanitary pads. In a school in the most economically and financially successful province in one the most prevalent first world countries across the globe, a young girl cannot access free sanitary products. I find myself asking the question: why not?
The pushback against supplying these necessities in school washrooms boils down to a few simple, frankly uninformed statements: that these products are cheap enough for students to obtain themselves, that free hygiene products are a luxury, and finally, that there are more important things to focus on.
We will begin by debunking the first of these assumptions; the idea that all girls can easily afford tampons and pads. The fact of the matter is, many girls and their families cannot fit quality hygiene products into their budgets, no matter how “cheap” they may seem. According to a Global News article on a report released by Plan International Canada this year, it is a cost issue experienced by one in three Canadian women under the age of 25. The same survey revealed that menstrual products are one of the highest material costs of being a female across all age groups. In a Stats Canada census brief released in 2017, children made up almost a quarter of people living below the poverty line. Should these children and teenagers be expected to pay for a necessary aspect of their personal hygiene when it could be supplied by their school? I don’t believe they should.
“But free tampons and pads are a luxury!” Are they though? A girl can control when and where she gets her period about as much as she can control the weather; it is going to happen the way it will whether she likes it or not. For someone getting her period for the first time at school, or perhaps someone whose cycle is a bit early, there is no grace or enjoyment in menstruating. The realization that you have begun your period without a pad or tampon in your possession is a terrifying one. It comes with a frantic search of your belongings, hurried interrogations of all the girls you know, and finally a brisk, close-legged, rush to the washroom where you find…. nothing. What are the options at this point? Stuff with toilet paper, embarrassingly ask your teacher for help to a very personal issue or pray that you will get through the day without a painfully noticeable leak. It is a ritual that many girls are extremely familiar with, and one that I would say does not draw any parallels to luxury. Unless the world suddenly gets accustomed to and accepting of unfettered menstrual bloodshed, it is safe to say that we will be needing feminine hygiene products.
The last argument against this movement is the one insisting that there are more important things to focus on. While I recognize that this may be true, I would like to emphasize why this initiative is important as well.
The stigma around periods makes girls feel almost ashamed to have to go through it, afraid to speak about an experience that is universal to all women. It is a part of our lives, in the way we dress and move and carry ourselves. As reported by the Toronto Sun this August, 1 in 7 Canadian girls has left early or skipped entirely due to not having period products. This is a reoccurring pattern that has been studied in other countries across the globe, from the UK to Rwanda.
I do not deny that there are bigger issues in education than a free tampon. There are bigger issues in the world that education. Yet what are you fighting for? If you see a larger problem, something that overshadows the subject of this article, why not ask for that to be changed? Why not have all voices championing for the evolutions they want to see in this system so that there is someone speaking for each cause they believe in?
I believe in a step forward in young girls understanding that they are cared for and thought of in their schools. I believe in the right for any young woman, regardless of her age, race, or socioeconomic status to have access to the things that will make her life easier.
I believe in equity. Period.