Budget 2022: Advocates want menstrual equity done ‘right’

More than six months since the Liberals pledged to create a menstrual equity fund, the federal government proposed the pilot project in its 2022 budget.

Beginning in 2022, the government would provide $25 million over two years to create a national pilot to help make menstrual products available to Canadians.

Women and Gender Equality Canada will be in charge of creating the project.

Kevin Hiebert, director of business development for Changing the Flow, said groups directly affected by lack of access should lead the discussion on how to get menstrual equity right.

This would mean reaching people who are racialized, gender nonconforming, disabled and experiencing other forms of marginalization, Hiebert said.

“Go to where they are and tell them, ‘How about solving period poverty?'” he said.

Bhanvi Sachdeva, a youth advocate for Plan International Canada, said this work must ensure it meets the needs of those groups, while also taking the climate into account.

This means moving from single-use period products to reusable ones, Sachdeva said.

Palwashah Ali, co-chair of advocacy at Bleed The North, said she has noticed that similar government programs are often gendered and meet the minimum standard of fairness.

“There’s a wide variety of people with different gender identities, with different experiences, who go through menstruation,” Ali said.

The mandate letter from the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, Marci Ien, tasked her with creating a fund so that non-profit organizations and shelters could make products available to “vulnerable women”.

The budget removed the gender reference and instead said the fund would help “Canadians in need.”

NDP MP Leah Gazan, a critic of women and gender equality, said on Monday that these products should be treated as an essential hygiene product, like toilet paper.

“It’s about dignity and making sure people have what they need to live with dignity, and that includes menstrual hygiene products, especially for those who can’t afford them,” Gazan said.

MP Karen Vecchio, the Conservative critic of women and gender equality, said on Tuesday that she does not support a subsidy for menstrual products and would like to tackle the issue differently.

“Is that a subsidy so that we’re still paying $10 for a box of tampons, or are we going to try and start doing something different?” Vecchio said.

Vecchio said she would like to further investigate the root causes behind why menstrual products are priced so high, whether it’s because of tariffs or markups along the supply chain.

“People are making money off people who need these products. I don’t think it’s a government solution,” she said.

Ien said March 22 in the House of Commons that she is consulting with organizations on menstrual equity to inform her work.

Riyadh Nazerally, a spokeswoman for Ien’s office, said in a statement Wednesday that the minister and her team have begun consulting with educational institutions, businesses, nonprofits and other government departments.

Asked if Ien would create a formalized consultation process, Nazerally did not answer directly, but said they will continue to consult “to make menstrual equity a reality.”

“Supporting people who menstruate has been around for a long time and is part of our government’s plan to build a more equitable Canada,” he said.

The Liberal government created a public consultation process on the supply of menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces that ended in September 2021.

Changing the Flow’s Hiebert said consultations would be worth conducting if they are aimed at finding out what people using the fund would need and using those findings to better meet those needs.

“Unless that’s happening … you don’t have to. Generally speaking, you know what to do,” he said.

Gabrielle Trépanier, another advocacy co-chair for Bleed The North, said she believes a full consultation is absolutely necessary to make sure the show is successful for every kind of person it’s trying to reach.

The information that circulates about menstruation does not always highlight all the people who experience it, Trépanier said.

“We often have people like indigenous people or people who have menstrual disabilities who miss out on these shows, because there’s not such a long query,” she said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 8, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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