May 28 is World Menstrual Hygiene Day – an initiative started five years ago by a German-based NGO called WASH United (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene).
Since then the movement has spread across the world and in 2018, the day was declared Menstrual Hygiene Day in Toronto as well.
In the official proclamation that was reiterated this year, Mayor John Tory says the day “raises awareness of the challenges menstruators face due to menstruation and highlights the importance of menstrual hygiene and solutions to these challenges.”
Read the full proclamation below:
In response to the mayor’s tweet last year, many questioned the need for the proclamation, some going so far as to call it “gross” — but author Amanda Laird says that is one of the reasons raising awareness is critical.
“We need to recognize that menstruation is a bodily function that is perfectly normal — in fact it is important to a female body’s health and wellness and it’s not something that we need to be ashamed about,” she tells CityNews.
In addition, Laird, who hosts the podcast Heavy Flow and wrote a book by the same name, says that menstrual taboos and lack of access to hygiene products are persistent and pervasive issues, even in world class cities like Toronto.
For marginalized populations and low income families, cost coupled with stigma are the main barriers to access to menstrual hygiene. Laird says that further perpetuates the cycle of poverty.
“If [menstruators] don’t have a way to manage their menstruation … then they stay home from school, they stay home from work. They’re not able to participate in society,” she says, adding that ready access to products would allow them to “participate fully in life.”
“Hopefully that helps to break the cycle of poverty that makes the access to menstrual products an issue in the first place,” she says.
Listen below to Laird’s explanation of why menstrual stigma and lack of access to hygiene products perpetuates a cycle of poverty and lack of access:
To that end, along with officially marking Menstrual Hygiene Day, this year Toronto has taken concrete action toward providing access to menstrual hygiene to marginalized groups.
Following letters and petitions from several advocates and activists, including groups like Progress Toronto and The Period Purse, city council moved a motion in March to spend over $220,000 to provide access to free menstrual hygiene products in shelters and respite centres. The motion was passed on May 7, with support from Mayor Tory.
“The Mayor recognizes that menstrual hygiene supplies are required to fully meet the needs of clientele at shelters in Toronto, and wants to ensure that everyone has access to the menstrual hygiene products they need,” said Lawvin Hadisi from the Mayor’s Office, in an email statement.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who lead the call for designated funding for menstrual products, said she’s proud to see the city follow through.
Read her full statement from March 4 below:
Advocates and activists are rightly calling the move a huge win. However Laird adds that there’s a lot more involved than just access to menstrual products.
“It can’t be just about products,” she tells CityNews. “It’s really fantastic that Toronto’s going to include products in shelters and that the movement is really spreading. However, it doesn’t solve poverty and also, it doesn’t provide true menstrual equity either.”
In order to get closer to those goals, Laird says it is important to fund research and education into women’s health issues.
“We really need to start looking at some of the other issues around menstruation like pain — 90 per cent of people with periods report pain. 1 in 10 women have diseases like endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and we don’t have a great understanding of these diseases,” she says. “I think we need more education, we need more research and in turn that will lead us to value the menstrual cycle as an important physiological function”
Listen below to why Laird says knowledge and research about menstruation and related issues are severely lacking: