Following months of collaboration and negotiation, Education Minister Stephen Lecce has announced that the Ontario Government will distribute six million free menstrual products per year to school boards.
This is possible under a new and innovative partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart designed to improve access to menstrual products.
The agreement is the first of its kind for Ontario and will position it as one of four provinces to take action on the issue of period poverty within schools.
A survey conducted by Plan International Canada showed 63 per cent of women and girls have regularly or occasionally missed an activity because of their period and concerns about not being able to access menstrual hygiene products or proper facilities. The report also noted that 34 per cent of women and girls have had to regularly or occasionally sacrifice something else within their budget to afford menstrual products.
The partnership will benefit students who need menstrual products and are unable to afford or access them, resulting in an inability to participate in school and other activities.
“Through the strong advocacy of young leaders in our schools, it has become extremely clear that menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury,” Lecce said. “This agreement will help remove barriers for women and girls by allowing them to access products at school, free of charge.
“It is another important way that we are helping to build more inclusive schools that empower all girls to have the confidence to succeed.”
Under the agreement announced recently, Shoppers Drug Mart will provide six million free menstrual products to the province per year, over the next three years. Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, this supply of free menstrual products will be provided to all school boards, which will make decisions about the distribution of products based on local needs.
“Inequitable access to period products, particularly for students, can lead to missed opportunities — school, work, and other activities — and creates barriers to success,” said Jeff Leger, President, Shoppers Drug Mart. “This donation will provide thousands of students in Ontario with free access to period products, thousands who won’t have to make that difficult choice.
“We are proud to be a part of this initiative, and grateful to our stores, our partners, and our customers for their support.”
The Ontario government and Shoppers Drug Mart are currently working to provide the supplies to all school boards in the province. Schools will be able to distribute the products to students by late fall this 2021-22 school year.
“OSTA-AÉCO is excited to see the amount of work being contributed for menstrual equity,” said Keith Baybayon, President of the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association. “We hope to continue working with the Ministry of Education to further this initiative and to eliminate the barriers that our students undergo.”
The Plan survey results also showed that despite growing public conversation about menstrual products and menstruation, social stigmas strongly persist. Almost half (41 per cent) of female respondents have been teased about being on their period, including by friends, colleagues and relatives.
The aim of this announcement is to ensure access to menstrual products to students who need them.
Period poverty impacts the most vulnerable students and is a situation that has been exacerbated by increased financial pressures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students who cannot afford menstrual products may experience a higher rate of absenteeism from school, challenges to engage fully in the classroom, and negative health effects, such as infections and toxic shock syndrome. It can also affect their social and emotional well-being.