Free Periods Canada advocates better access to free menstrual products on campus

Access to free menstrual products on campus is improving thanks to advocacy from Free Periods Canada.

Free Periods Canada is a non-profit organization that promotes menstrual equity and aims to make menstrual products accessible. Since 2019, the organization has focused on providing free menstrual products on campus, with a little help from the AMS on the funding front.

In February 2020, Free Period Canada’s regional team conducted an audit on 23 buildings at UBC, and the team found that many dispensers did not work.

Since then, the organization has advocated for better access to menstrual products on campus. UBC Building Operations began to offer free menstrual products in washrooms toward the end of 2020, and the AMS confirmed that departments such as student housing have committed to providing free products.

In addition to funding, the AMS has provided Free Periods with logistical support and put them in touch with UBC contacts, AMS President Cole Evans said.

Other universities have also been moving towards addressing period poverty — the University of Northern British Columbia announced on March 12 that it would be providing free menstrual products on campus.

Free Periods Canada hopes UBC can get to a place where it’s not difficult to find free period products on campus.

“A big focus of ours is to make sure that within a year or two years’ time we can end this particular conversation and make sure that there’s actually just products and we don’t have to fight for them,” said Devyika Srinivasa, advocacy and policy coordinator at Free Periods Canada.

But right now, the organization is focusing on inclusivity, sustainability and ensuring students know where to find free products.

“When we come back in September, the plan is to have more physical material like posters. We’ll have a physical poster with a QR code that people can scan to access the map,” Srinivasa said.

The organization is also working with UBC Equity & Inclusion to ensure its work is inclusive to all people who menstruate.

“The assumption that menstrual product dispensers and disposal units should only exist in women’s washrooms is incorrect,” said Rachael Sullivan, equity facilitator. Sullivan is one of the co-leads on the Inclusive Washroom Consultation Project, which aimed to help answer what an inclusive washroom looks like.

“We have people of all different genders and all different body types using different washrooms, so we need to ensure that there is easy access, low-barrier access to menstrual products — whether it’s in the gender-segregated washrooms, men’s and women’s, or whether it’s in those larger universal washrooms,” said Sullivan.

On sustainability, Free Periods Canada recently released a survey in collaboration with Period Aisle about post-secondary students' usage of menstrual products.

“The idea is to gauge whether university students in Canada are able to use reusables and what barriers may be,” said Srinivasa. “Once we have this information, we’ll be able to create educational materials about reusables and whether we can subsidize these products for students.”

She added that throughout all of its work, Free Periods Canada hopes to make the messages “as neutral and information specific as possible.”

“We're not telling you anything about what you should feel when you're on your period.”