Federally regulated workplaces providing free menstrual products isn’t good enough

Let’s talk about periods

Free menstrual products at a KPU Surrey campus washroom. (Nyamat Singh)

Free menstrual products at a KPU Surrey campus washroom. (Nyamat Singh)

Although discussing menstruation has, at times, been a subject that makes people uncomfortable, the world is changing and this natural bodily function is becoming a more prominent subject matter. 

After all these years, people who menstrate have finally begun to speak up in society for menstrual products to be considered a basic need. Nobody is asked to bring their own toilet paper or soap into facilities — pads and tampons should be no different. 

“Tampons and pads are basic necessities. So we’re making sure they’re provided to workers at no cost, because it’ll make for healthier and safer workplaces,” said Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan Jr in a new release, announcing changes to the Canada Labour Code making menstrual products freely accessible in all federally regulated workplaces. 

Since Dec. 15, federally regulated employers were required to give their staff free access to menstruation products at workplaces.

People with ovaries will spend an equivalent of 6.5 years of their life menstruating, according to the Absorbent Hygiene Product Manufacturers Association. This translates into an added expense for people with ovaries for decades of their lives just to tend to a bodily function, and menstrual products are not cheap. They are not a luxury, but rather an essential part of people’s health and well-being. 

Menstrual products should be freely accessible everywhere, not just in federally regulated workplaces. Their general availability would help in reducing any health complications related to prolonged use of pads or tampons such as Toxic Shock Syndrome. 

One in four menstruating women in Canada have to choose between paying for menstrual products or essentials like food and rent, according to a survey by Plan International Canada. Those who can’t afford pads or tampons often opt to use household items instead like rags, tissues, toilet paper, or paper towels taken from public washrooms. 

Heavy-menstruating people are also expected to change their menstrual products every three to four hours, resulting in a need to purchase more products compared to the average person. In these situations, those who can’t afford menstrual products may try to use these products for longer than they should be, which can result in vulvar irritation, vaginal discomfort, and infections as fatal as Toxic Shock Syndrome

When people with ovaries cannot afford menstrual products, they are forced to use unsafe alternatives that can be harmful to their health. As a result, an article by Forbes found those in such a predicament are forced to stay at home or drop out of school.  

Much like how losing a tooth can be frightening for children, people who menstruate may feel ashamed and lack understanding when they first start their period. Education on menstrual health can help people who menstruate take better care of themselves generally, which helps prevent negative social and emotional effects including anxiety, embarrassment, and skipping school. Increased awareness of menstruation could also potentially save years of physical suffering and wasted time for people who suffer from undiagnosed illnesses like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

Arguments have been made concerning the restriction of menstruation products just to women’s restrooms, even though menstruation is also experienced by transgender, gender non-conforming, and two-spirit individuals. Everyone who menstruates, regardless of gender identity, should be allowed to access free menstrual products like public washrooms, not just in federally regulated workplaces.