Free menstrual products coming to Ontario schools, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announces
Oct. 12, 2021
Some six million menstrual products will be provided free of charge annually to Ontario schools as part of a three-year program announced Friday by Education Minister Stephen Lecce following pressure from youth leaders and school boards.
The move -- which some boards had implemented back in 2019 -- addresses growing awareness about “period poverty,” where girls don’t have access to, or can’t afford, pads and tampons, interfering with their ability to take part in sports and activities or even attend school.
A few other provinces have similar initiatives in place.
“I’m so excited to hear this. This is great news,” said 17-year-old Jazzlyn Abbott, a Grade 12 student at Valour School in Petawawa.
“This is something that we have been advocating for over the past year, in my own school board and provincially,” added Abbott, a student trustee with the Renfrew County District School Board and a president with the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association.
Lecce said Ontario’s program is supported by Shoppers Drug Mart, which is providing menstrual pads starting later this fall.
“Through the strong advocacy of young leaders in our schools, it has become extremely clear that menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury,” Lecce said in a written statement.
“This agreement will help remove barriers for women and girls by allowing them to access products at school, free of charge. It is another important way that we are helping to build more inclusive schools that empower all girls to have the confidence to succeed.”
The Education Ministry says both student trustees and about half of all school boards cited period poverty as a concern.
NDP education critic Marit Stiles called the announcement “a victory for the students, organizations and school boards, who have fought for years for governments to address the issue of period poverty and ensure no student ever faces embarrassment or misses school because of lack of access to menstrual products.”
She lauded individual students and public boards such as Thames Valley, Toronto and Waterloo for independently moving ahead on the issue after hearing from students.
“Ontario should have created this legislation years ago, following the leadership of provinces like B.C. and Nova Scotia,” as well as Prince Edward Island, Stiles said, noting she had put forward such a motion in the Ontario legislature in 2019.
Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said “the government has allocated 1,200 pad dispensers to school boards based on the number of secondary schools. This is certainly good news -- however, it must be noted that this is an issue that must be addressed in middle schools and elementary schools as well. School boards will look to distribute products in school spaces that are easily accessible to students.”
She also said boards would like to see “more types of menstrual products offered” through the provincial initiative, such as tampons.
Last July, the Avon Maitland District School Board wrote to Lecce, saying “we are currently working to provide menstrual products in female and gender-neutral school washrooms. Easy access to free high-quality products is fundamentally a human rights issue and crucial to student health, well-being, and success by increasing confidence, respecting dignity, reducing potential financial burden, and mitigating student absences.”Menstrual hygiene, the board added, “is not a luxury. Period Poverty is real.”