Periods + Pandemics.
Period Promise Northumberland and Tackling Period Poverty Head On
By Gillian Smith-Clark
Editor in Chief
Gillian Smith-Clark is a photographic artist, writer and passionate social justice advocate.
Visit her website at: amodernportrait.com
“I came from a low-income family and remember a time or two when my mom would have to make me rags to use until we got money for proper items. Or she would go without, so I wouldn’t have to.”
- Northumberland County, Ontario resident
L ike everything else, access to affordable menstrual hygiene tools and supplies is taking a hit because of the pandemic. “Period poverty”, or the lack of adequate access to those products, is not a new issue. But it is yet another example of an inequity which COVID-19 has worsened.
If you don’t identify as female, period poverty might be a new term for you. Or maybe you know what period poverty is, but you think of it as something that happens in developing countries, elsewhere in the world. Think again. It’s a global problem that includes Canada, and because of the stigma still associated with discussing menstruation, it is still largely an invisible issue.
In November, I spoke with two women who are committed to ending period poverty locally in Northumberland County, Ontario. Maggie Darling of the Northumberland United Way and Nicole Beatty of THRIVE, the Northumberland Coalition to End Violence. Both women are part of Period Promise Northumberland, and they are passionate about making menstrual products more accessible and affordable for those living in poverty or with other barriers because, “nobody should have to choose between feeding their family and being able to afford basic hygiene products”.
Period Promise Northumberland is part of a larger United Way campaign which started in the Lower Mainland of B.C. with an initiative known as “Tampon Tuesday”. The aim of Tampon Tuesday was to collect and distribute menstrual products for those in need locally. It grew into something larger, and the wider objective of Period Promise is to eliminate period poverty in Canada.
Why should you care about this issue? Especially if you don’t identify as female? Because the effects of menstrual stigma, when combined with the stigma of poverty, have serious consequences in our society. Consider this: young people who experience period poverty are more likely to:
Leave home at a young age
Suffer from anxiety or depression
Fail to complete secondary education
Suffer from related health implications
Suffer from low self esteem
In a report conducted by Plan Canada, as many as one third of young Canadians under the age of 25 who menstruate have reported struggling to afford menstrual products. The report highlights the fact that period poverty is a real, and largely invisible problem faced by Canadian youth.
“Talking about it helps us learn about it. I am taking action to normalize the conversation around menstruation, and to ensure a future in Northumberland County where equal access to basic hygiene products is the norm, not the exception.” - Dr. Kristi Prince, ND, IBCLC
The financial cost of adequate menstrual products in Canada isn’t as straightforward a calculation as you might think. Price varies greatly depending on where you live: for example, a box of tampons or pads in Nunavut can cost upwards of $15 to $18 per box, but in metro Vancouver the same items cost only $3 to $11 and can be even less expensive if purchased in bulk. Urban areas are more likely to offer a selection of stores, giving the shopper a chance to compare prices, but in rural and remote areas options are limited and prices are high. Online stores are a good option in terms of lower pricing but require a fixed address within the range of their delivery service and usually, access to a credit card. Reusable options are also cheaper and more eco-friendly, but require more money up front. And in 2020 because of the pandemic, the price of menstrual products, like everything else, has increased.
Inspire Magazine made a calculation based on an average of 5 boxes of tampons and 4 boxes of liners or pads per year, at current prices as of December 2020, and reached a total of an average cost of $68.00 per year. But… this cost only includes menstrual products, not all of the associated expenses that are part of experiencing a period. For example, heating pads, pain relievers like Midol and ibuprofen, acne medication, birth control or new underwear.
Beyond the direct financial costs to the individual, there are health care costs and implications. Young people who experience period poverty often only have a few tampons or pads to use over the course of their period. This can have serious health implications, for example the risk of toxic shock syndrome, a potentially deadly syndrome which can result from a tampon being left in too long. A pad that has been used for too long can cause other problems, like fungal infections, UTI’s and in severe cases, infertility.
Consider this: when you enter a public washroom in Canada, you don’t have to pay for toilet paper. Or soap. Or paper towels/hand-dryers. Those items are all considered a necessary part of good public hygiene, and are therefore free. Menstrual hygiene is also a necessity for a large part of our population, and there should be widespread, free access to menstrual products in public buildings and washrooms.
Menstruation has been stigmatized globally for too long. In the words of local Northumberland naturopath Kristi Prince, ND “Periods are a normal and healthy part of life. They aren't wrong, they aren't gross, and they should never inhibit our ability to live each day or reach our full potential.”
A Call to Action
What can you do to help? First and foremost, educate yourself on the issue; there are several links at the end of this article as a starting point. Secondly, get involved in local organizations who are working to eliminate period poverty. We are incredibly proud of the work Period Promise Northumberland is doing locally as they continue to raise awareness on the issue of period poverty and menstrual equity. The campaign is engaging local organizations and individuals who are passionate about women’s issues, transgender rights issues, and all those affected by period poverty to become more active in delivering community solutions. The Period Promise Northumberland campaign is also actively looking for product and financial donations, which will be shared with vulnerable people in Northumberland County. Additionally, they lobby organizations of all types to adopt a policy to provide free products for staff, clientele, customers or others.
That is happening locally in Northumberland County Ontario, but you can get involved with the fight against period poverty anywhere. Check out your own local organizations: Indigenous advocacy groups, LGBTQ+ organizations and domestic violence shelters are a great place to start. Nationally, along with the United Way, Plan International Canada, The Period Purse and Oxfam Canada are all established non-profit charities working to end period poverty. (Please note: some of these links use gendered language).
Lastly, take political action. Call or write to your MPP, MLA, MNA or territorial representative. Ask that your province or territory make a commitment and take steps to end period poverty.
Elsewhere in the world, Scotland recently became the first nation to make period products free for all. The bill, introduced by Labour MSP Monica Lennon, was unanimously approved. Lennon said it was a "practical and progressive" piece of legislation made all the more vital because of the coronavirus pandemic. She added that, "Periods don't stop for pandemics and the work to improve access to essential tampons, pads and reusables has never been more important".
Together, we can create menstrual equity in our communities. Because, well, we’re in the middle of a public health crisis and every human should have the right and free access to basic hygiene necessities. Because menstrual hygiene is hygiene. Period!