Feds move forward on menstrual equity in budget, advocates want it done ‘right’

OTTAWA – Over six months since the Liberals committed to creating a menstrual equity fund, the federal government has proposed the pilot project in its 2022 budget.

Starting in 2022, the government would give $25 million over two years to create a national pilot that helps make menstrual products available to Canadians.

Women and Gender Equality Canada will be in charge of creating the project.

Kevin Hiebert, director of business development at Changing the Flow, said the groups directly affected by lack of access should lead the discussion on how to get menstrual equity right.

This would mean reaching out to people who are racialized, gender nonconforming, disabled and experience other forms of marginalization, Hiebert said.

“Go to where they are and say, ‘What does solving period poverty look like to you?’” he said.

Bhanvi Sachdeva, youth advocate for Plan International Canada, said this work should be sure to meet the needs of those groups, while also keeping the climate in mind.

This means moving away from single-use period products to reusable ones, Sachdeva said.

Palwashah Ali, advocacy co-chair for Bleed The North, said she’s noticed similar government programs are often gendered and hit the bare minimum standard for equity.

“There’s a diverse array of individuals with different gender identities, with different experiences, who go through menstruation,” said Ali.

The mandate letter for Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien tasked her with creating a fund so that non-profits and shelters could make products freely available to “vulnerable women.”

The budget did away with the gendered reference and instead said the fund would help “Canadians in need.”

NDP MP Leah Gazan, critic for women and gender equality, said Monday that these products should be treated as an essential hygiene product, like toilet paper.

“It’s about dignity, and ensuring people have what they need to live in dignity, and that includes menstrual hygiene products, especially for those who can’t afford it,” Gazan said.

MP Karen Vecchio, the Conservative critic for women and gender equality, said Tuesday that she does not support a subsidy for menstrual products, and would want to approach the problem differently.

“Is that a subsidy so that we’re still paying $10 for a box of tampons, or are we going to try to start doing something different?” Vecchio said.

Vecchio said she would want to look further at the root causes that explain why menstrual products get priced so high, whether it be due to tariffs or markups along the supply chain.

“People are making money off of people who need these products. I don’t think it’s a government fix,” she said.

Ien said on March 22 in the House of Commons that she is consulting with organizations about menstrual equity to inform their work.

Riyadh Nazerally, a spokesperson in Ien’s office, said in a statement Wednesday that the minister and her team have started consulting with educational institutions, businesses, not-for-profits and other government departments.

When asked if Ien would be creating a formalized consultation process, Nazerally did not directly answer but said they will continue holding consultations “to make menstrual equity a reality.”

“Supporting people that menstruate is long overdue and is part of our government’s plan to build a more equitable Canada,” he said.

The Liberal government created a public consultation process on providing menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces that came to a close in September 2021.

Hiebert of Changing the Flow said consultations would be worth doing if they’re meant to find out what people using the fund would need, and to use those findings to better meet those needs.

“Unless that’s happening … it’s not necessary. Broadly speaking, what needs to be done is known,” he said.

Gabrielle Trépanier, another advocacy co-chair with Bleed The North, said she thinks there is absolutely a need for a full consultation, to make sure the program is successful for every type of person it is trying to reach.

The information that circulates on menstruation does not always highlight all people who experience it, Trépanier said.

“Oftentimes we have folks like Indigenous folks or people who have menstrual disabilities who get missed in these programs, because there isn’t that lengthy consultation,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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