Douglas instructor advocates for free menstrual products in public washrooms

By Marie Del Cid-Luque & Melissa Nilan, Marketing and Communications

This year, all public schools in B.C. will be required to have free dispensers for menstrual products in their washrooms. This change is a direct result of the efforts of Geology Instructor Selina Tribe and other advocates who are helping lead a push for free pads and tampons in washrooms.

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But Selina isn’t stopping there: Her ultimate goal is to get amendments made to the provincial and national building codes and occupational health and safety codes so menstrual products are required by law to be available in all public washrooms.

“I want to change the law. Current regulations require public washrooms to provide free soap, toilet paper, paper towels, washing water and even urinals for men, but there is no mention of menstrual supplies,” says Selina.

Urinals, as Selina points out, are a convenience, not a medical necessity, and they are paid for with tax dollars. Gender equality would indicate menstrual products, which are medically necessary, should be equally available.

Selina’s concern around availability of menstrual products began when she discovered her daughter’s elementary school did not have dispensers in their washrooms. On top of that, School Board standard practice required students to go to the office and ask an adult for a tampon or a pad.

“The principal said that this is how the school board does things,” says Selina. “So I purchased a coin-free dispenser and got permission to install it in the girls’ washroom.”

Selina says young women face difficulties if they have to go and ask a stranger, let alone a male, for a tampon or pad. Some cultural and religious groups are very reserved about the topic of menstruation, which can make an already embarrassing request doubly so. Some students may choose to go home or send a friend on their behalf instead of approaching an unfamiliar adult with such a personal matter, which means they are either missing class or interrupting their classmates to ask for help.

“Boys never have to do this. We don’t ask them to go to the office to ask for toilet paper, we don’t make them carry their own toilet paper or pay for toilet paper or pay to use the urinal that’s conveniently installed for their speedy use,” says Selina. “It’s unnecessarily infantilizing; you’re treating a young woman like a child, making her go ask an adult for menstrual products.”

With free period products now (or soon to be) available for all students up to Grade 12, Selina wants post-secondary institutions to follow suit, starting with Douglas College. She says there is a lack in menstrual supplies available in the College’s washrooms. And of the few coin-operated dispensers that do exist, about a quarter of them don’t work.

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Selina says that with costs ranging from 25 to 50 cents (and up to $2 outside of the College) for a single tampon or pad from a dispenser, female students face an extra financial burden when they are caught unprepared – an added expense to their “already expensive” education.

“What if you need multiple supplies because you have a heavy flow, or a long day on campus? You could be spending several dollars. The alternative is to take time out of your day to go to bargain hunt and buy supplies at a store, which may result in missing classes or exams if you have a tight schedule.”

Selina teamed up with Douglas College Sociology Instructor Lisa Smith to study how the cost of and access to menstrual products can affect students. Together, they founded the Menstrual Research Institute.

“We’re trying to understand how college students are dealing with their period on campus.”

Selina has organized a public event that will feature a group of specialists for a discussion on menstrual equity. It will also include a menstrual product drive, encouraging the public to bring in menstrual products to donate to Period Promise, a campaign by United Way. Periods, Politics & Beyond! takes place on March 10, 5:30-8:30pm, in the concourse at New Westminster Campus.

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