Some six million menstrual products will be provided free of charge each year to Ontario schools as part of a three-year program announced Friday by Education Minister Stephen Lecce following pressure from youth leaders and boards.
The move — which some school boards have already implemented, as early as 2019 — addresses growing awareness about “period poverty,” where girls don’t have access to, or can’t afford, pads and tampons, and that interferes with their ability to take part in sports and activities or even attend school.
A few other provinces have similar initiatives in place.
In Ontario, Lecce said the program is supported by Shoppers Drug Mart, which is providing the products free of charge starting later this fall.
“Through the strong advocacy of young leaders in our schools, it has become extremely clear that menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury,” Lecce said in a written statement.
“This agreement will help remove barriers for women and girls by allowing them to access products at school, free of charge. It is another important way that we are helping to build more inclusive schools that empower all girls to have the confidence to succeed.”
The education ministry says both student trustees and about half of all school boards cited period poverty as a concern.
NDP Education Critic Marit Stiles called the announcement “a victory for the students, organizations and school boards who have fought for years for governments to address the issue of period poverty and ensure no student ever faces embarrassment or misses school because of lack of access to menstrual products.”
She lauded individual students and public boards such as Thames Valley, Toronto and Waterloo for independently moving ahead on this issue after hearing from youth.
“Ontario should have created this legislation years ago, following the leadership of provinces like B.C. and Nova Scotia,” Stiles also said, noting she had put forward a motion in the Ontario legislature in 2019 for such a move.
Last July, the Avon Maitland District School Board wrote to Lecce, saying “we are currently working to provide menstrual products in female and gender-neutral school washrooms. Easy access to free high-quality products is fundamentally a human rights issue and crucial to student health, well-being, and success by increasing confidence, respecting dignity, reducing potential financial burden, and mitigating student absences.”
Menstrual hygiene, it added “is not a luxury. Period Poverty is real.”
Jane McKenna, Ontario’s associate minister of children and women’s issues, said “our government is committed to reducing stigma and removing barriers that prevent women and girls from achieving their full potential … Ensuring that menstrual products are free and readily available to students who need them will help create more equitable environments in our schools.”
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