Period Poverty – A Community Issue
Many United Ways across Canada collect menstrual products for the month of March. Those products are distributed to community organizations who serve people experiencing period poverty. United Way Halifax is hosting our own drive, with March 30 marking our third annual Tampon Tuesday.
Since we first launched Tampon Tuesday in partnership with NSGEU in 2019, we’ve seen lots of great changes. People across the city have started to recognize the impact of period poverty. Halifax Public Libraries was the first to make menstrual products available for free in all of their washrooms. They set a great example for others to follow. In December, HRM made menstrual products free in many of their public washrooms as well. Highfield Park PharmaChoice also made menstrual products available to customers that need them. Other organizations, like NSGEU, have ensured their own workplace washrooms are well-stocked. Each of these organizations has acknowledged that menstrual products are like soap and toilet paper – they are necessities in washrooms.
Access to Products
Although menstrual products are much more readily available for free, many people still prefer to access supports from community organizations, like neighbourhood hubs. Veith House, a neighbourhood hub in north-end Halifax, finds that menstrual products are one of their most requested toiletry items. “For a lot of people facing really difficult financial decisions, menstrual products are not a priority,” says Katie Scrine, a social worker at Veith House. She says usually people are more worried about keeping their housing or putting food on the table. They’re less likely to set aside the funds for menstrual products.
Like the Halifax Public Libraries, Veith House keeps menstrual products stocked throughout the building. The neighbourhood hub is designed to be an inclusive, non-judgemental space where people can feel comfortable. This is true regardless of whether they’re in need of support or just coming by to socialize. Katie notes that one way they make it easier is by just having items available for people to take. They don’t even have to ask, the products are just there. During the first few months of the pandemic, menstrual products were some of the most urgently needed items in community. Veith House initiated contactless drop-offs of necessities to their clients to ensure they weren’t going without.
Who does period poverty affect?
While we don’t know the exact number of people experiencing period poverty in Halifax, we do know that an estimated 20,000 women between the ages of 18-64 are experiencing poverty in HRM. But it’s not solely an adult problem. Young folks in families living in poverty may find themselves without the menstrual products they need. It’s also an issue for transgender and non-binary folks who may struggle with the stigma of menstruation.
Not having sufficient menstrual products can mean a lot of missed opportunities. People might miss school, work or social activities. They might be forced to use toilet paper instead of pads or tampons. It can take a toll on a person over time, and lead to embarrassment. It may also mean choosing between things like food or transportation and tampons.
The real solution to period poverty is likely an adequate income – where there are other barriers to accessing menstrual products, the financial stress of poverty is often the biggest barrier. When people have an adequate income, they have more choice and dignity. That said, having menstrual products available where people are already gathering or accessing services can be a meaningful way to help address the problem. That’s why United Ways hold Tampon Tuesday events – it means more products can be available in organizations in our community. If you’re interested in helping, start a drive in your workplace, drop off menstrual products at one of our collection points, or make a donation on our website on March 30, 2021.