Free menstrual products coming to Manitoba schools and shelters

Manitoba is making pads and tampons free inside schools, women’s shelters and resource centres.

A deal struck between the province and Shoppers Drug Mart this week will provide millions of menstrual products each year.

“It’s a normal part of life and so it’s good to see that. Making these things freely available also makes it something that we can talk about and it doesn’t have to be secretive or shameful,” said Erin Bockstael, manager of family and community programs at the Women’s Health Clinic.

The deal will see Shoppers Drug Mart provide 3.3 million pads and tampons per year to the province over three years. Status of women minister Rochelle Squires says she wants the program to continue for longer than that.

“What that looks like after three years I don’t know, but we are certainly going to work with other partners, with other levels of government and with community to ensure that we achieve menstrual equity in the province of Manitoba,” said Squires.

Bockstael says the benefits of the deal will be easily proven.

“It gives people the opportunity to fully participate in things if they’re not able to if they don’t have the menstrual products and hygienic products that they need.”

Alana Livesey with Plan International Canada (PIC) says removing the economic barrier is a good first step. She says a recent survey found that many people experience what’s called “period poverty.”

“One in 5 women and girls who menstruate cannot afford menstrual products and 1 in 5 respondents said that they ration or used their products longer than they should because they can’t afford it,” said Livesey.

She says there are still many social barriers in place.

“People don’t feel comfortable talking about it. We found a quarter of respondents who were men did not feel comfortable knowing that someone had their period.”

Livesey says community-level work needs to be done in order to reduce period stigma, and projects like this will help understand the need.

“Are the amount of products going out, is it enough? Are these products accessible?” she asked.

The province says it will distribute the products monthly to school divisions and the schools will decide how to distribute them.

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