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Opinion: U of T should provide free menstrual products in all campus washrooms

People who menstruate face academic barriers when they have to focus on menstrual hygiene and not their lectures
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Menstrual products in campus washrooms should be provided free of charge to all students. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY
Menstrual products in campus washrooms should be provided free of charge to all students. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

For most people who menstruate, periods are a fact of life — a persistent biological process around which we must plan our lives. We are forced to alter what would otherwise be our ‘regular schedule’ to accommodate for our periods, whether that means not wearing our new cream coloured pants, making sure our medicine cabinet has enough pain relievers to subdue the inevitable cramps, or leaving home 10 minutes earlier than we normally would because we have to go to the washroom just to ensure everything’s all good before our lecture starts.

But sometimes you reach into your bag only to find that while you’ve remembered your insanely overpriced textbook and your four different, but all extremely necessary, lip balms, you’ve forgotten to bring a pad. There’s not even a stray tampon at the bottom of your bag.

The University of Toronto’s mission statement promises to foster an academic community with “vigilant protection for individual human rights” as well as “a resolute commitment to equal opportunity” for all students. So, if this is the case, why are there not free menstrual products available in all campus washrooms?

Menstrual products in campus washrooms — yes, including men’s washrooms — should be provided free of charge to all students. These products, which are integral to the health of people who menstruate, are a necessity, not a luxury, and should consequently be treated as such.

Free menstrual products would help ensure that all students are able to be present in class and learn, void of worry about their menstrual hygiene. U of T’s mission statement additionally claims that the university is committed to prioritizing the “principles… of equity,” which should extend to all aspects of students’ health. The complimentary provision of menstrual products would create an equitable environment for all students, eliminating a potential learning barrier for those who may experience difficulties accessing menstrual products of their own accord.  

Woodsworth College does, in fact, offer free menstrual products in all buildings and residence washrooms, in addition to offering extra products in the Woodsworth College Students’ Association office, which is located in room WW103 of Woodsworth College. While this effort is not enough yet, it is certainly a start. 

The Ontario provincial government has recently announced a three-year deal where, in partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart, they will provide free menstrual products to students belonging to all Ontario school boards. This is, of course, amazing, and a guaranteed step in the right direction.  However — not to take away from this monumental initiative — I cannot help but wonder whether Premier Doug Ford thought about the approximately 47,000 students who menstruate and attend U of T. We all know Ford dropped out of college himself, but surely, he knows that people who menstruate still have periods after Grade 12. Right? 

The onus, however, cannot be placed entirely on the Ontario government. U of T must also work to better embody its mission statement that promises all of its students the opportunity to academically flourish. People who menstruate won’t be able to do that if they’re not provided with free menstrual products in all campus washrooms.

Period poverty is a growing concern in Canada. A 2018 report conducted by Plan International Canada reported that one-third of the women under the age of 25 in the study said that they were unable to afford the menstrual products that they require. 

This devastating reality has caused women to skip work and school. Without menstrual products, people who menstruate are forced to turn to unsanitary measures such as using toilet paper as a makeshift pad or using a tampon for longer than the recommended four to eight hours. The latter can result in serious health implications, like toxic shock syndrome or urinary tract infections. 

In addition to preventing people who menstruate from reaching their full potential, the lack of free menstrual products in campus washrooms is complicit in the debilitating stigma surrounding periods. This stigma also contributes to stripping people who menstruate of opportunities that they otherwise may have received. 

The stigma is evident in how we feel self-conscious about the seemingly obnoxious crinkly sound of the pad packaging, and how we tuck tampons deep in our pockets when walking to the washroom. Furthermore, women and girls in some parts of the world are viewed as dirty when menstruating, and are forced to leave their societies and live in solitary confinement for the duration of their period, preventing them from attending school, showering, and cooking.

The effects of inaccessible menstrual products, in conjunction with the intense stigmatization surrounding periods, culminates in negative impacts on people who menstruate, including lower mental and physical health and well-being, decreases in school attendance, declines in academic performance, and fewer economic or career opportunities. U of T has the power to ensure that people who menstruate have the same opportunities as those who don’t menstruate — so what is the university waiting for? To truly carry out its mission statement, all students must be given the opportunity to achieve success.

Paden Neundorf is a third-year English and critical studies in equity and solidarity student at Woodsworth College.