TORONTO — Student unions and youth advocacy groups across Ontario are calling on the provincial government to ensure free menstrual products are made available on all post-secondary campuses.
In a letter sent to the government Tuesday, the Toronto Youth Cabinet, which advocates on behalf of city youth, and numerous student unions called for the province to require that universities and colleges provide free menstrual products by the end of the year.
"The lack of access to these products can negatively impact students' school attendance and their social-emotional well-being and have contributed to the stigma that exists on menstruation," the letter signed by 45 groups reads.
"Providing all students with convenient access to free menstrual products helps to support their full participation in school activities, reduces stigma and promotes gender equality."
Those behind the letter said they want the province to build on the progress it made last October, when it announced a plan to have free menstrual products in elementary and secondary schools across the province.
"The issue of period poverty remains in our post-secondary schools and the experiences of our college and university students is not dissimilar from their elementary and secondary school counterparts," they wrote.
Research from Plan International Canada, which advocates for children's rights and girls' equality, indicates that in 2019 one-third of Canadian women under the age of 25 reported struggling to afford menstrual products and almost two-thirds of females aged 14 to 55 had to miss out on an activity because of their period.
Adaeze Mbalaja, vice-president of campaigns and advocacy at York Federation of Students, said she and her colleagues have been pushing their universities for free menstrual products but haven't been successful. By taking their call to the province, she said student groups are hoping Ontario can set an example for other jurisdictions.
"People who bleed aren't just in Ontario, that financial inaccessibility isn't just in Ontario and it would be wonderful to see it adopted provincially and federally," said Mbalaja, whose student union is among those that signed the letter to the government.
Stephen Mensah, executive director with the Toronto Youth Cabinet, said the call made to the provincial government is about addressing period inequity.
"There shouldn't be barriers for any student," he said. "So we really wanted to mobilize and organize to see how we can address this issue."
Mensah said he was inspired to advocate on the issue after seeing an Instagram post from a friend early last year on the steep prices of menstrual products in Canada. As part of the latest effort to get the products on all post-secondary campuses, Mensah said he spoke with students across the province.
"I spoke to one student member in Durham, who actually had a locker with a couple of menstrual products (and) all the girls knew the combination and so they were able to open the locker whenever they wanted," said Mensah, who is a student at Toronto's Ryerson University.
"I hear stories like that, and this caused me (to realize) the onus is not on students, not on women and girls and gender non-binary and trans men to provide these products for themselves, but it's on our institutions and government to actually step up and see the fact that it's a necessity."
The office of the Minister of Colleges and Universities did not immediately respond to request for comment.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, which is funding a project by Carleton University's School of Journalism and The Canadian Press.
Rachel Watts and Gabby Calugay-Casuga, The Canadian Press