The decision is just as exciting as it seems: on March 1, U of T announced that free menstrual hygiene products will be coming to dispensers in 75 women’s, men’s, and gender-inclusive washrooms at UTSG. The pilot project, launched by the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students and Facilities & Services aims to address the stigma around menstruation.
Historically, menstrual hygiene products have been labelled as luxury items, though I have no idea who decided that having a period was a luxury. Newsflash: most menstruators are not huge fans of periods. A large part of their disdain isn’t because of the period themselves, but rather the social stigma of those who experience it. So, why is it essential to provide free menstrual products to university students? I’ll tell you.
When was the last time you paid for toilet paper in a public washroom? When was the last time you worried about bringing an extra roll of toilet paper to use in the washroom when leaving your house? Then why is it not the case for menstruators, who are typically left to take care of their hygiene using their own resources.
The inability to afford menstrual products disrupts productivity. Generally, students don’t have much money to spare between tuition, housing, textbooks, and other school supplies. On top of that, a month’s supply of a box of menstruation supplies can be an unaffordable expense for many. The average menstruator will spend about 10 years of their life on their period and will use at least 21 tampons every cycle. Moreover, it’s estimated that the average menstruator spends more than US$4,700 on necessary menstruation products in a lifetime. In many cases, menstruators miss school because they cannot afford these products.
In situations when menstrual hygiene products aren’t available, the alternatives can be hazardous to the menstruators’ health. One alternative is using tissue paper or toilet paper to contain blood, which are unhygienic and could affect the health of reproductive organs. Another alternative commonly used is keeping a tampon in for an extended period of time — in this case, bacteria will be produced which may lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS). In serious cases, TSS can cause seizures, organ damage, shock, and even death.
It’s not just the health and financial complications of menstruating that matter — the stigma around menstruation has its own consequences. Not only do transgender and gender-nonconforming menstruators bear the financial and the medical burden of expensive menstrual hygiene products, but they also suffer from the more-than-usual lack of access to these products. Up until this point, menstruation products were available in some women’s washrooms at U of T, meaning that menstruators using men’s washrooms were denied access to sanitary products.
Most importantly, offering free menstrual products in bathrooms signals to students that their needs matter and that their period is an integral part of being healthy. As Sandy Welsh, U of T’s Vice-Provost, Students, mentioned in the decision’s press release: “This is an issue of equity.”
If items as basic as sanitary menstrual products help enhance student productivity while reducing their stress, isn’t it an investment worth making for any university?