While many Canadians may think nothing of tossing a box of tampons or pads into their grocery carts each month, others are forced to rely on alternatives like rags, old socks, and t-shirts to manage their periods.
When the alternative is not buying food, you work with what you can find.
If that sentence hits hard, that’s the point. But it’s time we face this stark reality and do something about it: nearly a quarter of Canadian women have inadequate access to period products due to financial barriers. This needs to change. Period.
A recent poll commissioned by the LOVE YOU by the Shoppers Drug Mart™ program found that 17 per cent of Canadian women have to make the dehumanizing choice between whether to buy an essential grocery item or menstrual products each month. Subsequently, the same poll revealed that 14 per cent of Canadian women have been forced to rely on unhygienic alternatives found around the home.
Unfortunately, what’s been termed “period poverty” has been a historically overlooked issue in Canada. According to the poll, 78 per cent of Canadians admitted they were not familiar with the term. The good news is that there is a growing – albeit overdue – awareness of the issue worldwide.
In the United States, New York City made history in 2016 for passing the country’s first legislative package that ensured access to menstrual products in public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities. In February 2020, Scotland made headlines when the country announced the passing of a bill that will make pads and tampons free to those in need. Free menstrual products are already available to the country’s high school, college, and university students in Scotland.
While Canada has yet to take the same progressive approach to periods, that’s not to say we’re still blissfully unaware of the issue here. While the Canadian government considered menstrual products a non-essential item from 1991 to 2015 – meaning that households paid GST on these products – passionate voices from campaigns like Canadian Mentruators instigated the overdue removal of this tax on July 1, 2015.
The LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart program™ is also on a mission to fight period poverty by raising awareness while inspiring action. Along with Food Banks Canada, the program aims to show Canadians that one way they can help those in need is by donating period products – an item that many Canadians forget to consider when making donations to women’s shelters and food banks.
The cause isn’t a new one for Shoppers Drug Mart. “Since 2011, the LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart program has been committed to supporting women’s health,” said Lisa Gibbs, Director, Community Investment at Shoppers Drug Mart. “This includes initiatives focused on helping women facing period poverty such as: product donations, local campaigns like ‘Tampon Tuesday,’ making period product dispensers available to homeless women in Toronto, and strategic collaborations with partners like UbyKotex and Food Banks Canada.”
The drug store giant’s most recent initiative involved the online survey of 3,025 randomly selected Canadian adults commissioned by Shoppers Drug Mart from June 23 to June 25, 2020.
“Shoppers Drug Mart commissioned a national omnibus to reveal how Canadian women have experienced period poverty, as well as their awareness of the issue,” said Gibbs. “Sample omnibus questions included checking to see how familiar Canadians were with the term ‘period poverty,’ asking if they’d ever had to make the choice between buying period products or an essential item on their grocery list, and asking if they ever had to resort to using an alternative period product (i.e. sock, rag, towel) because they were unable to afford period products.”
According to Gibbs, the shocking survey results – especially the hard-hitting facts that 17 per cent of Canadian women have had to chose between buying a period product and an essential grocery item more times than they can count, and14 per cent of Canadian women have been forced to use unhygienic alternatives – reveal inadequacies across the country.
“Ontario and the Atlantic provinces answered with marginally higher percentages that they have had to resort to using an alternative product (e.g. sock, rag, towel) because they were unable to afford period products (e.g. pad, tampon, pantyliner),” says Gibbs. “The Atlantic provinces, Alberta, Ontario, and B.C. had the highest percentage of people who had to make the choice between buying period products or an essential item on their grocery list.”
To generate greater awareness around how Canadians can help the cause, the survey also asked participants if they were aware that food banks across Canada are in need of period products and offer period products whenever available.
“As the central food bank in Mississauga working with over 40 agencies, we’ve witnessed first-hand the ongoing need to get essential period products into the hands of low-income families,” said From Joanna Burke, Director of Marketing & Communications at The Mississauga Food Bank. “When individuals come to us in need of emergency food, they don’t have the financial resources to afford to pay for their rent and put food on their table. On average, after paying for rent and utilities, our clients have $8 per person, per day left to spend.”
Considering that the average box of tampons can cost nearly that amount, that’s a pretty grim reality. “People shouldn’t have to choose between food and menstrual products. By offering these products, we hope to stretch our clients’ cash flow further each month,” said Burke. “Taking care of this monthly need is not optional, so it shouldn’t have to be a choice.”
When period products stretch the wallet so thin, drugs that help with pre-menstrual syndrome and period cramps – two things that can be debilitating, especially in trying times – like Midol are an out-of-the-question luxury. Suffering each month is the reality of many.
To relieve some of the financial stress, the Mississauga Food Bank relies on period products being donated through the community. “The LOVE YOU by Shoppers Drug Mart™ program is instrumental in us being able to give out menstrual products to our neighbors living beneath the poverty line.” Says Burke.
To kick-start the movement and encourage the same from Canadians, Shoppers Drug Mart and U by Kotex will donate up to 50,000 boxes of period products to Food Banks Canada. While the donations of period products to shelters is undoubtedly a positive initiative, the hope is that the Canadian government can take a page from Scotland’s book and move to subsidize pads and tampons.
In the meantime, Canadians can also help carry the momentum forward by visiting shoppersdrugmart.ca/periodpoverty to learn more and/or to consider a donation of period products to their local food bank or women’s shelter.
*header image by Gabrielle Rocha Rios on Unsplash