The Ontario government says it will offer free feminine hygiene products in schools after making a three-year deal with Shoppers Drug Mart.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Friday that the government will distribute six million free menstrual products each year to school boards, starting this current school year in late fall.

It will be up to school boards to determine how to distribute the products based on local needs, Lecce said.

Specifically, the pads will be the products that will be made available to students first in this project, but Lecce said they will evaluate student feedback to determine if they should add other feminine hygiene products like tampons.

“Menstrual products are, of course, a necessity, not a luxury,” Lecce said.

“For women and girls, ensuring they have access to these products is key to their health and successful participation in school. But the reality is that some students cannot afford or access them and this creates barriers. “

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The government said that, according to a Plan International Canada survey, 63 percent of women and girls have missed an activity on a regular or occasional basis due to their period and concerns about not being able to access menstrual products or proper facilities.

The survey also indicated that 34 percent of women and girls, whether on a regular or occasional basis, have had to sacrifice something else in order to pay for menstrual products due to their budget.

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“This donation will provide thousands of Ontario students with free access to contemporary products, thousands who will not have to make such a difficult decision,” said Shoppers Drug Mart President Jeff Leger. “We are proud to be part of this initiative and grateful to our stores, our partners and our customers for their support.”

Over the next three years, Shoppers Drug Mart will donate 18 million menstrual products and 1,200 dispensers.

Lecce said Ontario is joining with other provinces, such as British Columbia, Nova Scotia and PEI, to address period poverty within the school system.

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