The term ‘period poverty’ may sound new but in fact, around 34% of women and girls in Canada have had to sacrifice their budgets to be able to afford menstrual products. Around 63% of women and girls, meanwhile, report missing an activity regularly or occasionally because they do not have access to the menstrual products they need. There have been various parliamentary initiatives to end period poverty but more needs to be done if women and girls are to have equal access to schooling, work, and other important opportunities.
Problems Caused by Period Poverty in Canada
One in seven Canadian girls has missed school because of a lack of menstrual products. Considering the fact that periods last for an average of seven days, the total number of days missed can be considerable – meaning that period poverty can cause girls to lag in schoolwork and miss out on opportunities in class. In some parts of the world where period poverty is rife (for instance, Sub-Saharan Africa) girls can be absent for up to 20% of school a year. It is easy to see how this can lead to a subsequent gap in educational and professional opportunities.
Health Problems Caused by Period Poverty in Canada
A lack of hygiene can lead to various health issues – including infections such as bacterial vaginosis, which can cause problems such as itching and burning sensations. Although it is possible to reestablish the vagina pH balance naturally through remedies such as probiotics and yoghurt, those who do not have the budget for menstrual products may logically not be able to access needed remedies or medication. Simply having one’s period can throw pH levels off, which is why maintaining hyomgiene throughout one’s menstrual cycle is key.
Fighting the Battle Against Period Poverty
Governments across Canada have taken steps to end period poverty. In mid-2015, Canada removed its tampon tax (in the U.S. only 13 states have done so). In May 2021, the Alberta government donated $260,000 to the United Way’s Period Promise campaign, which will ensure that menstrual products are provided for free in over 100 schools across the province. As stated by Dr. Rebecca Sullivan, Professor at the University of Calgary, “We need to think of menstrual products the same way that we think of soap and toilet paper –necessities.” In April 2019, the B.C. government issued a first-in-Canada ministerial order that requires all public schools to provide students with free menstrual products in school bathrooms. These products are also provided for free in Nova Scotia schools. In general, the availability of free menstrual products varies depending on one’s place of residence because provinces have general jurisdiction over healthcare.
Period poverty affects a high percentage of women in Canada, as it does across the globe. Women and girls without access to menstrual products are at risk of health problems and of missing days of school or work, thus missing out on vital opportunities. Governments need to work harder not only to provide free products to those in need but also to raise awareness of an issue that is often buried under stigmatization and enforced silence.