2022 budget: Advocates want equal distribution of menstruation done ‘right’

More than six months since Liberals committed to creating a menstrual equity fund, the federal government has proposed a pilot project in the 2022 budget.

Starting in 2022, the government will provide $25 million over two years to create a national pilot that helps provide menstrual products to Canadians.

Women and Gender Equality Canada will be responsible for creating the project.

Kevin Hiebert, director of business development at Changing the Flow, said groups directly affected by the lack of access should lead discussions about how to get menstrual justice right.

This means reaching people who are racial, gender-non-conforming, disabled and experiencing other forms of marginalization, Hiebert said.

“Go to their place and say, ‘What would a period of poverty look like for you?'” he said.

Bhanvi Sachdeva, youth advocate for Plan International Canada, said this work must be ensured to meet the needs of these groups, while keeping the climate in mind.

This means switching from single-use products to reusable products, says Sachdeva.

Palwashah Ali, deputy chair of advocacy for Bleed The North, said she noticed similar government programs were often gender-based and achieved minimum standards for equality.

“There are various individuals with different gender identities, with different experiences, who are menstruating,” said Ali.

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

The budget removes the gender reference and instead says the fund will help “Canadians in need.”

NDP MP Leah Gazan, a critic for women and gender equality, said Monday that these products should be treated as essential hygiene products, 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 it,” Gazan said.

MP Karen Vecchio, a Conservative critic for women and gender equality, said Tuesday she does not support subsidies for menstrual products, and wants to tackle the issue differently.

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

Vecchio said he wanted to look further into the root causes that explain why menstrual products are priced so high, whether it’s because of tariffs or markups along the supply chain.

“People are making money from people who need these products. I don’t think this is a government fix,” he said.

Ien said on March 22 in the House of Commons that she consulted with organizations on menstrual equality to inform their work.

Riyadh Nazarally, a spokesman at Ien’s office, said in a statement Wednesday that the minister and his team had begun consulting with educational institutions, businesses, non-profits and other government departments.

When asked if Ien would set up a formal consultation process, Nazarally did not immediately respond but said they would continue to hold consultations “to make menstrual equality a reality.”

“Supporting menstruating men is long overdue and is part of our government’s plan to build a more just Canada,” he said.

The Liberal Government created a federally regulated public consultation process on the provision of menstrual products in the workplace that ends in September 2021.

Hiebert of Changing the Flow says consultations are useful if they aim to find out what the people using the funds need, and use the findings to better meet those needs.

“Unless that happens … it’s not necessary. Broadly speaking, what needs to be done is known,” he said.

Gabrielle Trépanier, co-chair of other advocacy with Bleed The North, said she thought full consultation was absolutely necessary, to ensure the program was successful for every type of person it wanted to reach.

Information circulating about menstruation doesn’t necessarily highlight everyone who experiences it, says Trépanier.

“Often we have people like indigenous peoples or people who have menstrual disorders who are missed in this program, because there are no long consultations,” he said.

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

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

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