- by Alicia Sylvest

Tears of joy are overflowing!

Yesterday, the Toronto Youth Cabinet, backed by many big names, made an official plea to Ontario Education minister, Stephen Lecce, in a push to provide all publicly funded schools in Ontario with free menstrual products. This is everything I have been working towards for almost five years, and the numerous social media tags on this topic today shows my push has also been heard. But, it’s not enough.

In 2020, I took the leap and emailed the Bluewater District School Board to seek a discussion about their position on free products and what they were doing as a board to end period poverty. Period poverty is a very real crisis that our female, trans male, and non-binary youth experience; it’s a crisis that is long over due in fixing. We need numbers. We need voices. We need to PUSH. Let me elaborate as to why this is considered a crisis.

First and foremost, the major issue is affordability. Women, girls, trans men, and gender non-binary people experience menstruation. Bodies don’t function based on our financial status. Not only does lack of finances pose an issue on mental health around menstruation, it can become a very serious medical crisis. Not having access to clean and free products can cause death. Yes! It can be that extreme. Using the same product for too long will cause poisoning within a person's body that can be deadly. Noone should have to worry about this. Our youth are not exempt from this. Recent studies show that one-third of Canadian women under 25 years of age struggle to afford period products. This number doesn’t include the experiences of trans men and gender non-binary. This must also be considered.

More data shows that a whopping 70% of Canadian women have missed work or school solely because of their periods. Again, this number does not reflect the experiences of trans men and gender non-binary. The fact is, that when people who menstruate don’t have access to period products, their success and full potential is not being reached. It makes me wonder how this has not been addressed far sooner than this. Students who menstruate should not be marked absent or given consequences at school or work for something they can not control, and most definitely not for something that is not understood or taken seriously.

Lastly, I will introduce period shame. Do you ever recall a time when you were in high school and got your period? You had no product with you. Your school didn’t have access. You hid in the washroom, crying because you knew how the bullying and teasing would begin. You waited until the bell rang so the halls were empty. You made your way to the office, called your parents, and you begged to go home. I have been this student, and I can not put a number on how many other people who menstruate have told me similar stories of obvious brown paper bags being carried from the office, fingers being pointed, sneers being made. This still happens today. Our youth deserve better. They deserve the right to an education free of shame over their bodies and free of missing days out of fear.

We can end the stigma, the shame, the poverty. It starts with pushing our education minister and our school boards to provide free and accessible period products. I have been collecting donations of feminine hygiene products for our local schools here in Grey & Bruce. This is why!

Tears of joy are overflowing!



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