Vandy Widyalankara, a Grade 12 student at White Oaks Secondary School, says the Halton District School Board’s new Free Menstrual Products initiative will have an impact on fellow students’ self-esteem and feeling of equity.
“I am very happy this initiative exists in our Board as menstrual equity is one step in the right direction for filling the equity gaps that exist in our system,” says Widyalankara, one two HDSB Student Trustees. “I am especially proud of the advocacy work done by the Student Senate, both at the Board level and provincial level, which greatly contributed to the implementation of free menstrual hygiene products in schools.”
In September, the Board began providing free menstrual products for students in all HDSB schools as part of the Free Menstrual Products Initiative
, a program designed to address some of the gaps in access to menstrual products to promote awareness and alleviate the stigma of menstruation. Dispensing machines have been installed in 277 female and all-gender washrooms across elementary and secondary schools. The machines have signage reminding students to properly dispose of their products to remain environmentally responsible.
While the HDSB started its own pilot project last year before a full roll out across the Board began last month, the Ministry of Education announced last week the province will distribute six million free menstrual products per year to Ontario school boards under a partnership with a national pharmacy retailer.
Milena Trojanovic, a teacher at Boyne Public School in Milton, has been a champion of this kind of initiative for some time. In 2018, she worked with Procter & Gamble as a Period Poverty Ambassador. She cited a recent study by Always revealing that nearly one in seven Canadian girls have either left school early or missed school completely because they did not have access to period products. A HDSB research study from 2019 indicated similar statistics of students missing class due to lack of products.
The reception to this initiative in the HDSB has been very positive, Trojanovic says.
“There has been great reception of this initiative by students and staff. I know from a parent perspective, they feel good knowing that products are available when needed without any stigma for their menstruating child. Students feel secure and safe in knowing their needs are being met and that they do not have to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable in asking for products from their teachers. This has been a very positive step in the right direction for a basic human reproductive function.”
This initiative has also been an important step forward in addressing equity among students, Trojanovic says.
“Equity is so important and we strive to focus on equitable opportunities for all students. When students feel like their voices are being heard and their needs are being met in terms of their physical, social, emotional and academic needs, then they will thrive in our schools. This initiative will make a huge impact on the confidence and learning ability of our students.”
Christy Peterson, Principal at White Oaks Secondary School, says: “By providing this free resource, we remove barriers to access without stigma. This lends itself to a positive and supportive learning environment for young students.”
The Free Menstrual Products Initiative provides many benefits to menstruating students including bettering class attendance and achievement, says Jewel Amoah, the Board's Human Rights and Equity Advisor.
"Access and availability of menstrual products in schools impacts the dignity and self-esteem of menstruating students. The HDSB Free Menstrual Products initiative is an attempt to address some of the gaps in access to menstrual products to promote awareness and alleviate the stigma of menstruation," says Amoah. “The Free Menstrual Products initiative aligns with the HDSB’s Equity & Inclusion and Mental Health & Well-Being goals in the 2020-2024 Multi-Year Plan
, along with Environmental Leadership goals as the initiative involves the responsible use of menstruation products."