It's Time For Ottawa To Recognize Periods

It's Time For Ottawa To Recognize Periods

TAKE ACTION TODAY! SIGN OUR PETITION AND ASK FOR FREE PERIOD PRODUCTS IN CANADIAN WORKPLACES!

On May 3, 2019, then-federal Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu announced her intention to amend the Canada Labour Code and add menstrual products to the list of items required in restrooms in federally regulated workplaces and buildings.  

A national discussion about menstruation ensued. If you read the headlines, it sounded like Ottawa was throwing free boxes of tampons and pads to federal employees at taxpayers’ expense.  Maxime Bernier went hysterical, sarcastically referencing The Great Menstrual Products Unavailability Crisis on Twitter. ‘Next they’ll expect toilet paper for free’, he thought to himself.

Actually, Mr. Bernier, restrooms already provide a host of supplies for free.  There’s free toilet paper, free soap, free paper towels, even free urinals. Maxime doesn’t worry about going to the john and not finding what he needs.  

The Great Menstrual Products Unavailability Crisis is real.  Periods are unpredictable.

The Great Menstrual Products Unavailability Crisis is real.  Periods are unpredictable. There’s no bladder to hold the blood.  ’You mustn’t wear tampons ahead of time for fear of toxic shock syndrome.  Tampons and pads don’t signal when they’re full. Accidents and leaks are common.  Menstrual emergencies can’t be ignored or they only get worse.

Yet you simply do not see 25% of your friends, family and coworkers around you bleeding on any given day.  They are discreet and do whatever necessary to manage the blood. They create makeshift pads from toilet paper; ask colleagues for a pad, tampon or cash; leave the workplace and run to the drugstore; or even go home or stay home to deal with their period privately. 

Minister Hajdu understood how menstrual surprises and pervasive menstrual stigma in society can make it hard to be fully productive at work.  When you have a period, regardless of whether you’re rich or poor, young or peri-menopausal, you need ready access to these essential items. This is why they should be freely available in washrooms, like soap and toilet paper.

All these rules clearly state the need for urinals.  All these rules fail to mention menstrual products.  

Most people don’t know that Canada’s restrooms are regulated by sets of rules: the federal and provincial occupational health and safety regulations, and the national and provincial building codes.  All these rules clearly state the need for toilet paper, soap, wash water, and paper towels in every bathroom outside the home.  

All these rules clearly state the need for urinals.  All these rules fail to mention menstrual products.  

The restrooms at work are equipped so your non-menstruating colleagues get all the free toiletries and special plumbing they need for extra speed and convenience; whereas your restroom lacks a basic necessity that is shrouded in shame. In fact, even the women’s washroom is better equipped to serve a cis man than it is to serve a menstruator. 

Some restrooms have vending machines and charge up to $2.00 for a single tampon or pad.  Imagine paying a toonie to obtain a few squares of toilet paper. IKEA provides free diapers in the restroom but charges 50 cents each for a tampon or a pad.  Mountain Equipment Co-op in Vancouver makes customers pay $1 for a tampon or pad. (Seriously, men should Pay-to-Pee in solidarity and give a loonie to use the urinal.)

Those who don’t need period products know their needs are met in every restroom across the country.  They never carry cash or extra supplies to use the toilet. And rightfully so. Good for them. I don’t begrudge my tax dollars spent on urinals that benefit my son, brother, and father.  But, to be fair, let’s have some consideration too.  

Some say the federal government is trying to bolster its feminist credentials (how I love that phrase). However, it is simply not true. The menstrual equity movement has gained momentum over the past few years across the country and around the world.  It takes time to raise awareness and reach decisions through various levels of government. 

A few years ago we got rid of the tampon tax that implied menstrual products are luxury items.  They aren’t luxuries, nor amenities, they are necessities. The next logical step is putting them in restrooms for free, just like toilet paper.  In the best of all possible worlds, every stall would have a sleek wall mounted dispenser with various styles and absorbencies, but we are not there yet.  Menstrual shame and stigma run deep. Many of us have to overcome our own shame to stand up and talk about the issue. Many others are not there yet.

Menstrual shame and stigma run deep. Many of us have to overcome our own shame to stand up and talk about the issue. Many others are not there yet.

Recently city councillors in Cambridge and Hamilton, ON quashed pro-period pilot projects because they were embarrassed to talk about menstruation.  Imagine how women and all menstruators must feel when your elected representative cannot bring themselves to speak of a normal, healthy, recurring event in your life. Menstrual stigma restricts success by making half of the population less than fully productive and always watching their back.  

In 2017, when I learned my daughter’s school bathroom had no menstrual products, I bought a coin-free dispenser, installed it in the school and started speaking to school boards. On Feb 26, 2019, New Westminster became the first district in Canada to provide free menstrual products in school bathrooms.  

Continued advocacy by myself, other dedicated individuals, and long-time pro-period groups like United Way’s Period Promise resulted in the Ministerial Order of April 5, 2019, requiring all public schools across BC to provide free menstrual products in girls’ and universal bathrooms.  BC became the first province in Canada to do this. Now over 250,000 girls, trans, gender non-conforming and non-binary folks with periods in BC will see evidence that periods happen, and not have to feel shame.

Since then numerous municipalities and school districts from Victoria to Halifax have put period products in the restrooms. Grassroots advocates approach their city halls and elected representatives and ask for it. 

Periods are everywhere; in school, at work, in public, doing business, buying goods and services, governing, volunteering, while playing sports.

We urge the current Minister of Labour Filomena Tassi to enact the proposed amendment recognizing the need for menstrual products in workplace restrooms.  This will set the standard for provinces and municipalities to follow. It will reduce menstrual stigma and increase productivity and engagement at work.

Periods are everywhere; in school, at work, in public, doing business, buying goods and services, governing, volunteering, playing sports.  Let’s remove barriers to our mobility and engagement outside the home. Let’s make it so no one has to carry their own tampons or pads or money to the bathroom because Canada’s bathrooms have got you covered. 


Make Menstrual Products Free & Accessible in Canadian Workplaces


Selina Tribe is an inspired menstrual justice advocate, who was a key player in the groundbreaking legislation first in New Westminster, and then the province of BC, to mandate free period products in schools. She’s also a professional geoscientist, a member of the Women's Advisory Committee for the City of Vancouver, the Chair of the Women in Engineering and Geoscience, division of Engineers and Geoscientists BC, and passionate mom.

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