In an effort to tackle period poverty — a lack of access to menstrual products, education and hygiene facilities — the federal government announced on Thursday that it will fund $17.9 million to Food Banks Canada. These funds will support the organization in conducting a nationwide pilot program aimed at tackling the challenges of affordability and the stigma associated with accessing menstrual products that many Canadians encounter.
“We are feeling the pressure of rising costs of just about everything. And today we’re thinking about women, those that menstruate, that have to think twice about picking up a box of pads or a box of tampons,” Minister of Women, Gender Equality and Youth Marci Ien said during a press conference.
“Period poverty isn’t some kind of abstract concept; it has a direct link to the wallets of women and girls. And it isn’t just about accessibility, it’s also about cost.”
One in six Canadians who menstruate has personally experienced period poverty, and this number rises to one in four if their household earns less than $40,000 a year, according to a March 2023 Women and Gender Equality Canada report. The survey also found that one in five people who menstruate say they may struggle to afford period products over the next year.
Food Bank Canada is set to run the National Menstrual Equity Fund pilot that will distribute free menstrual products to diverse, low-income communities right across the country, Ien said.
The organization will also partner with several grassroots organizations, among them the Allen Gardens Food Bank in Toronto, where the press conference was held.
Meryl Wharton, president of the food bank, said because of rising living costs and inflation, the food bank has seen a surge in visits over the last few years.
“Food security is getting worse,” she said during the press conference. “When we started, we used to feed 100 to 150 people. Now we’re doing 1,100 people in two days.”
Many of the clients are women in need of baby food and menstrual products, like pads and tampons.
She recalled a recent incident where a mother approached the food bank seeking menstrual products for her three daughters. Initially, she received six pads. When she returned the following week she said she’d resorted to cutting the pads in half in an attempt to double the supply and meet her family’s needs.
“This is what’s happening,” she said. “They ask for pads, tampons, anything we can give them,” she said.
Lack of access to menstrual products is closely linked to poverty and disproportionately impacts youth, single mothers, Indigenous Peoples, Black and other racialized communities, immigrants and people experiencing homelessness, among other groups, Ien said.
“These products are a basic necessity, as basic as toilet paper, as basic as picking up a bar of soap, as basic as buying some paper towels,” she said. “This pilot is about making sure that no one in this country is held back from going to work or going to school because they feel that they have a need to hide, that they have their period.”
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