Nikki Hill: Take action in BC to eradicate period poverty

Opinion: ‘The feeling of failure when I can’t provide menstrual products for my teenage daughter. It’s heartbreaking,” said one respondent to the BC Period Promise Research Project.

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May 28 is Menstrual Health Day (MH Day), a global day of action to collectively create a world where periods are a normal fact of life by 2030.

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MH Day is also an opportunity to raise awareness about period poverty and menstrual equity, which are still highly stigmatized concepts, even in Canada, despite the fact that menstruation is a basic biological function.

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In 2021, United Way BC working with communities in inland BC, the lower mainland, and central and northern Vancouver Island, and the BC government launched the Period Promise Research Projectwhich found that 26 percent of respondents had gone through a period without having menstrual products available.

“The feeling of failure when I can’t provide menstrual products for my teenage daughter. It’s heartbreaking,” said one of the respondents in the investigation.

As we commemorate MH Day in BC with activities like the annual event United Way Period Pledge Campaign, We must also continue to take action that promotes progress toward the 2030 goals by ensuring that decision makers, workplaces, and public institutions drive policy change at a faster pace. People are increasingly struggling to meet basic needs, with the challenges of cost of living and inflation, with the pressures brought on by COVID-19, and this is more critical than ever.

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The level to which champions have already risen in our province is inspiring. Community advocates and volunteers from across the province—nonprofits, unions and businesses, college campuses, city councils, and school boards—have made BC a leader on this overall issue.

And campaigns like Period Promise raise awareness and help lessen the immense stigma surrounding menstruation.

However, eradicating period poverty will not be achieved with a one-size-fits-all approach and we have much more work to do.

Ensuring that people who need menstrual products have access to them is essential for them to be able to participate in their school, work and community life.

The BC Government became the first jurisdiction in Canada to require menstrual products in the K-12 system in 2019 and these factors came to the fore in politics. While we share the approach and will continue to work with advocates to promote making menstrual products as equally available in bathrooms as soap and water, truly addressing period poverty will require systemic changes.

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The Research Project also recommended that the government establish a body to identify gaps in comprehensively addressing period poverty in BC due to the unique challenges vulnerable people experience in accessing services and products. As a result, BC appointed a Period Poverty Task Force in 2022 to explore the factors that contribute to period poverty and find solutions that can benefit people in BC.

Building on the model established in the UK in 2019 (which did not survive the pandemic, making BC the global task force lead), the province continues to ensure community programs remain funded as long as the task force develops its recommendations, which are due in March 2024.

As noted in the Research Project Report, providing menstrual products to the public through community groups should be nested within a set of strategies that would dramatically increase access to free menstrual products.

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Other access points for free products that were recommended through the public survey included post-secondary institutions, workplaces, government-operated restrooms, pharmacies, and other regularly accessible public spaces.

Also, as we see flooding and wildfires already displacing people in BC from their homes and communities, heeding the lessons of recent weather events to ensure menstrual products are available for emergency response is another. critical but short-term action.

Eradicating period poverty is not just the government’s domain. Businesses, municipalities, and organizations can take their own steps in May for MB Day by pledging to provide menstrual products, increasing workplace equity, and decreasing menstrual stigma by signing the Period Pledge Policy Agreement or carry out a collection campaign.

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Whenever we experience a crisis in our communities, whether it’s the pandemic or the weather, we step up to help those in need. Let’s unite this MH Day to end period poverty together.

Nikki Hill is Chair of the BC Term Poverty Task Force. She is the recipient of the 2020 Wendy McDonald Community Catalyst Award from the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and the 2020 United Way BC Joe Morris Labor Community Service Award.

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