Did you know that period poverty is an issue in Canada's classrooms? As we witness a global shift in the realm of periods, it can be easy to forget that students as young as 10 years old can menstruate. At a young age, there is a heavy social stigma, uncertainty, and fear behind menstruation. Organizations that support elementary and secondary school students who menstruate are crucial to an enjoyable school experience of half the population. Access to free menstrual products is a pillar of academic equity and success. Therefore, how to fight period poverty in the classroom is an important issue.
If you have never had to spend school hours worrying about bleeding through your pants, consider yourself lucky. If you have never spent school hours focused on where you’ll access more pads or tampons, you have grown up with privilege. A child’s priority in the classroom is to learn, unhindered by their period.
Collection & Donation Period Product Programs
Many regions in Canada—where period products are still not funded by federal or provincial governments—have seen grassroot organizations collect and donate period products to local schools to alleviate the financial burden of bleeding and support students on their learning paths.
As the coordinator of a Canadian chapter of one such period equity non-profit, I’ve been asked the same two questions more times than I can count:
How can I participate in this indirect form of collective period care support for students with periods?
How can I start a period care collection community initiative to help students who menstruate?
The answer to both: there is no one way to do it.
Since period health and accessibility have not been political priorities, many of us as community advocates are diving in without a framework. These are the types of social changes that are built from scratch.
Red Box Project Niagara
The Red Box Project Niagara is an example of an initiative that began in the UK from a grassroot-level idea. It grew beautifully over the years and created a massive impact on the UK as a whole. Coordinators are now located in multiple countries world-wide, and we all operate with the same vision—a world where no student has to worry about their period while getting an education.
In the Niagara Region, I witness the impacts of high unemployment rates, food insecurity, an opioid epidemic, and low-income households on all community members. However, reproductive health (particularly that of youth) is still a topic that is not openly discussed despite its role in the cycle of poverty.
With a growing number of families accessing Niagara’s food banks on a monthly basis, the extra costs of toiletries—including period products—are more than many households’ budget.
At Red Box Project Niagara, we:
Identified the main needs for students when faced with period insecurity as:
pads (various sizes)
tampons (various sizes)
panty liners, and
some interest in menstrual cups
Began collection drives through social media partnerships as well as with local, small businesses. Stores offered their space as collection points within different cities. Calls for donations were met with a huge community response, and soon we found ourselves ready to distribute in the schools.
Began reaching out to Niagara Region’s schools one at a time, offering large totes full of assorted period items. Students are welcome to use emergency/individual items, or stock up on what they need at home for the month. Our process of integration was informal!
The Impact: We received impactful feedback from students and teachers alike. Many teachers informed us that they had been purchasing the extra items for students out of their own pocket. This is above and beyond the role of an educator, and frankly, it is unacceptable that there is not funding on all board levels to cover these basic necessities as part of a health, equality, and equity curriculum component.
Bodily Agency: Feedback outlined how grateful students have been to be able to pick what suits their bodies, their flow, and their comfort. We received appreciation from households that have multiple menstruators as they have been able to stock up on products for the month.
Period Poverty a Barrier to Attending School: A recent survey by Always shows that one in seven students who menstruate have missed school days because of their periods. (Consider how these numbers could be higher without the stigma of periods and answering surveys about period health!). These numbers fluctuate in every country, and average out—on a global scale—to 15% of school days missed annually because of periods. Schools cannot make claims to equality when their students who menstruate are faced with additional barriers to learning.
Empowering Young People Who Menstruate
All numbers aside, access to period items across all school boards is more than a parent saving money every month. It is empowering young people who menstruate to choose products that work for them without having to rely on adults to provide a basic necessity. It is normalizing periods by having the items free and visible, along with inclusive signage.
Schools that have already implemented period equity programs have attested to the fact that including period care in school has created a positive impact of equal physical, mental, and social health in student’s learning. Most importantly, learned stigma fades quickly when there is no secrecy behind the need for menstrual products.
Level the Playing Field
How to fight period poverty in the classroom, then, begins with breaking a generational barrier. We are simultaneously working towards unlearning past generations’ misconceptions and shame around periods, and establishing a level playing field for the new generation of people who menstruate to thrive academically and socially long into adulthood.
Wire, B. (2018, August 07). Nearly 1 in 7 Canadian girls have MISSED school due to lack of Period PROTECTION1: ALWAYS® wants to HELP #EndPeriodPoverty and keep girls in school. Retrieved March 17, 2021, from https://financialpost.com/pmn/press-releases-pmn/business-wire-news-releases-pmn/nearly-1-in-7-canadian-girls-have-missed-school-due-to-lack-of-period-protection1-always-wants-to-help-endperiodpoverty-and-keep-girls-in-school
Ensuring no young person misses out on their education because they have their period. (2018). Red Box Project. http://redboxproject.org/