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Point Douglas councillor leading charge for free menstrual products in City of Winnipeg buildings

A Winnipeg city councillor is looking into the cost of potentially having all civic washrooms equipped with free menstrual products. Getty Images

Winnipeg councillor Vivian Santos is leading the charge to see free supplies of menstrual products in city-run facilities.

Santos (Point Douglas) introduced a motion that passed unanimously at the Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage, and Downtown Development Tuesday night.

The motion asks for a report on the cost of the proposal in 60 days.

“Last week was International Women’s Day, and there was discussion as well at the (provincial) legislature about offering free menstrual products at schools,” Santos told 680 CJOB.

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“I went and spoke with the mayor as well as some of my female council colleagues, and said, ‘why are we not offering this at the municipal level’?”

Read more: Scottish parliament expected to become 1st country to offer free menstrual products

Santos said she went into the washroom at City Hall and found that the machines that sell menstrual products for a quarter were empty.

“It just came up … do I have 25 cents? Who carries change nowadays?

“I was thinking about my own daughter and younger women who have to deal with it — if they’re going to play sports or they’re going to practice — if they don’t have the product with them on-hand, can they go to the bathroom and grab a product? Not in this case.

“I really want to it to be something that is accessible for young girls — and anybody obviously who’s experiencing menstruation every month.”

Read more: Group calls for free menstrual products in all publicly funded Ontario schools in open letter

Santos said her motion asks for a report on the actual cost of implementing free menstrual products across all 500-plus civic buildings, and once those numbers are available, the city can see what’s feasible.

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“We are offering other supplies as well in our washrooms, such as soap and toilet paper, so why can we not offer supplies for people who are menstruating? This is also a hygiene and a health issue,” she said.

“It’s natural. It’s a natural thing that our body does. I think it’s important that for equality and understanding … we should be having this discussion.”

Click to play video: 'Charity provides menstrual products for Indigenous girls and women' Charity provides menstrual products for Indigenous girls and women
Charity provides menstrual products for Indigenous girls and women – Oct 24, 2020

Reaction to Santos’ proposal was mixed on 680 CJOB, with some listeners suggesting a free system would inevitably be abused.

I worked for a large company that supplied feminine products. The problem was these products were not only used in the workplace but taken home and used as a home supply. Theft became a problem,” the listener said.

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“This cost the company in the thousands of dollars. As soon as a 25 cent cost was put on the machines, theft went to zero. So there needs to be controls placed on taxpayer-funded distribution. It will get out of hand. Human nature dictates — if it’s free take as much as you can.”

Read more: U of R social justice group tackling ‘period poverty’ among students

Other listeners applauded the move.

I don’t need the product anymore, but remember all too clearly those surprises! I’m happy to have my taxes used to provide products in public washrooms,” said one woman.

There has been a push for a similar policy at other levels of government, with NDP MLA Uzoma Asagwara tweeting Tuesday that they had raised the question of providing free period products at Manitoba schools.

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