Menstrual products may soon be available in some Hamilton Rec Centres and through food banks in the coming months.
The Emergency and Community Services committee approved a plan for a pilot program to provide menstrual products for free for members of the community in need.
The 12-month project will see menstrual products distributed to five recreation centres throughout the city.
Dubbed the ‘universal approach,’ this method of distribution will see pads and tampons placed in baskets in women’s and universal washrooms at Dalewood, Huntington Park, Dominic Agostino Riverdale, Westmount, and Norman Pinky Lewis.
Another distribution network being explored during the pilot is through a partnership with Hamilton Food Share.
In this scenario, the City of Hamilton will provide menstrual products or the funding for menstrual products which will then be distributed to food banks in the city.
Councillors on the committee were outspoken in their support of this pilot project.
Councillor Sam Merulla was particularly effusive in his praise of staff and stakeholders who contributed to bringing this plan to council.
“This is something we should’ve been doing years ago,” Merulla said. “I think it’s easy for men to dismiss this as a non-issue.”
As someone who was raised with three sisters and a mother, Merulla said he knew how important access to programs like this is to women.
Councillor Nrinder Nann also felt this initiative was a long time in coming.
“This is fundamentally a health equity issue,” she said.
Nann pointed out that Hamilton Food Share’s involvement is particularly promising given that food banks have to rely on donations of feminine hygiene products to get them to clients. Under this program, there would be a reliable supply.
In fact, Councillor Brad Clark saw the organization’s reach and influence as a way to tap into more affordable ways to obtain menstrual products through partnerships with manufacturers.
“This pilot is prudent and wise,” he said. “We need to maintain this collaborative spirit [with Food Share].
Councillor Esther Pauls, who in the past has come across as somewhat uncomfortable discussing the issue of women’s menstrual products around the horseshoe, also voiced her endorsement of the pilot but did question how it would be monitored.
She questioned staff as to whether or not there was a concern that people might take more than what they immediately needed from the baskets placed at rec centres.
“I just want to make sure that we’re helping the people that really need it,” she said.
Grace Mater, the Director of Hamilton’s Children’s Services and Neighbourhood Development Division, told Pauls that the rec centres in the pilot were strategically chosen and that the pilot is designed to assess needs and distribution.
Staff plans to report back on the project in the first quarter of 2021.
Pauls then questioned whether or not it would be prudent to consider advocating that the province of Ontario increase the basic needs allocations for Social Assistance programs to cover the cost of feminine hygiene products.
Staff drafted a motion that directed staff to inquire about doing just that. The motion received unanimous support.
The total cost estimate for the pilot is approximately $121,000.
This matter will be before the City Council in the weeks to come.
Photo courtesy Marco Verch via Flickr.