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Hamilton public board calls on province to provide free period products in all schools

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Hamilton public board calls on province to provide free period products in all schools

Hamilton’s public school board has thrown its support behind an initiative that will see free period products in school washrooms across the city.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) sent a letter last week to Education Minister Stephen Lecce, urging the ministry and the provincial government to fund the ‘Free the Flow’ program.

“Every student who menstruates should be able to focus on their education and participation in school activities without worrying about a lack of access to pads, tampons and other menstrual products,” the letter, signed by Board chair Dawn Danko, said.

“We echo the request of OSTA-AECO and other school boards for the province to establish a new fund that will allocate monies towards school to provide menstrual hygiene products equitably and free of charge for all students who menstruate.”

Earlier this spring, advocates led by the Toronto Youth Cabinet, called for the provincial government to offer free menstrual products in all publicly funded schools in 72 Ontario school boards.

At the time, the Toronto District School Board and the Waterloo Region District School Board were cited as having their own programs and advocates pointed to similar government-funded initiatives in British Columbia, Nova Scotia and PEI.

At a meeting earlier this month, HWDSB trustees approved a motion to prepare a report to provide free menstrual products in the washrooms of all HWDSB schools in a similar manner to other sanitation products.

“In the past, these products have been made available to students on request; however, we believe such items should be more widely accessible for students in washrooms to ensure the privacy and dignity of students,” the HWDSB letter said.

“Readily providing these products in washrooms both removes barriers faced by students and ensures students have access to products that are essential to menstrual health, comfort and participation in school and society.”

Back in March 2020, before the pandemic closed schools, a one-time donation facilitated by the United Way of Hamilton and Halton, the HWDSB was able to provide menstrual products to 10 local public schools in lower-income areas in March 2020.

“A one-time donation is not enough to create long-lasting, equitable change, and a significant investment in infrastructure for product distribution is still required,” the letter said.

According to a Plan Canada gender study, published in 2019, approximately 68 per cent of women felt that their period has kept them from fully participating in activities. That number jumps to 83 per cent among those who are 25 years and under.

The same report found that periods are a major source of anxiety for Canadian women as almost a quarter of them (23 per cent) and 33 per cent of women under 25 struggle to afford menstrual hygiene products for themselves or dependents.

Period poverty has intensified with the onslaught of the pandemic, however, with mounting job losses and a lack of access to facilities where period products were readily available.

“Menstrual products are a necessity for full participation in society, and every woman, girl, trans man and gender non-binary person should have barrier-free access to the menstrual products for the benefit of both their physical and mental well-being,” the HWDSB’s letter concluded.

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