Menstrual health has historically been a gendered issue, as society typically associates periods with women and femininity. However, as our world has evolved and grown, gender is no longer binary, and blood has no gender. We use the term ‘people who menstruate’ and ‘people with cycles’ to acknowledge a more encompassing understanding of those with periods. Moreover, activism led by women, trans people, non-binary and intersex individuals contributes to the betterment of society through evolving women’s rights and menstrual rights for all. When referring to women and female empowerment in this context, it encompasses women and all other marginalized individuals.
“We told our government that we are essential – and our government listened” (Canadian Menstruators, 2015). It is truly powerful to fight for equality and justice, yet at the same time, a slap in the face that women and other marginalized individuals must continue to prove themselves as essential in the 21st-century.
Periods, where to begin? I first wrote about menstruation because I wanted to discuss this commonly occurring biological process openly. However, the more I thought about the topic, the more I realized there is a lot more about periods than the physical process. A typical period occurs in 28-day cycles, and menstruators will shed their uterine lining and bleed for about five days, which can start at age eight and can occur up to age sixty. Chatelaine surveyed Canadians to determine what an average person who menstruates will spend on sanitary products annually. The results concluded that most people with cycles use an average of 20 tampons per period. Given that there are twelve months in a year, this leads to a final cost of roughly $65 per year. If someone has their period starting at age12 up until the age of 55, they will spend on average $2,795 throughout their life on necessary products. This monetary total does not include damages to clothing and bedding, which can get stained or destroyed during periods. Additionally, this total does not factor in the cost of various birth control methods such as the pill or condoms. This $2,795 is the average across the board, meaning that many people with cycles will need to use more sanitary products than others. Chatelaine’s survey only included tampons which are less expensive than pads; ergo, their costs may be higher. $2,795 is an absorbent amount of money, and on top of that, many Canadian families have multiple menstruators, making their costs on sanitary products even higher.
Wedding cakes, cocktail cherries and human sperm are all non-luxury goods and were not taxed as such. Yet, up until 2015, Canadians were taxed on sanitary products (Canadian Menstruators, 2015). The majority of the Canadian population has a uterus and menstruates, meaning that over half of Canadians were being taxed on products necessary for their livelihood until 2015. These taxations additionally contribute to the costly nature of menstruation, which people with cycles cannot control due to their reproductive role but reinforced gender-biased taxation and inequality. The removal of GST from menstrual products or eliminating the ‘tampon tax,’ as it is commonly known, was a step to subsidize these essential goods. Yet, the country still faces difficulties accessing these products as many Canadians cannot afford such basic necessities.
The tampon tax removal evoked a shift in the mindset for much of Canada’s population. People have started to understand that access to menstrual products is a real issue in Canada, and it isn’t a far removed problem – it is affecting people in their own communities. July 2019 brought about the first possible policy change favouring menstruation. The Canadian Government published a Notice of Intent in the Canada Gazette to propose providing free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces. The study suggested that providing these products free of cost would lead to better health outcomes, higher workplace productivity, menstrual stigma reduction, and progress in gender equity (Canadian Government, 2019). This study and future proposal was a step in the right direction, recognizing that there is an issue and proposing a way to mitigate the adverse impacts. In addition, there is a recognition for a gap in societal welfare.
However, the real problem is rooted in the fact that:
- This proposal only impacted a tiny group, and
- Nothing ever came of the request. It all comes back to activism and what women are willing to do to fight for equality and justice.
Living in a country like Canada, we are fortunate to have the right to organize in the face of justice, and that we can push for equality. We will be heard. Whether changes ensue because of activist movements is an entirely different issue. The tampon tax being removed signalled a step towards gender equality, yet as a nation, we still face problems regarding access to sanitary products. Not only does the lack of access to hygienic products make life challenging for many people who menstruate, but it also leads to detrimental health implications and unsanitary measures (CPHA, 2019). This fact brings up the idea of period poverty: people with cycles using pads or tampons for an extended time or using whatever they can to support their periods due to a lack of resources. We need to use this term more in our society. It is a supercritical reflection of many people’s realities and an understanding of the sacrifices that have been made to fulfill the reproductive burden placed upon people.
Whether it be period poverty, health risks, or the tampon tax, these various issues have all come to light due to activism and women fighting for equal rights. Many NGOs in Canada are working towards programs that allow people of all incomes to access sanitary products. Many organizations propose free sanitary products in public washrooms under the premise that toilet paper is free and everyone deserves equal access.
Some select regions in Canada have begun to provide free sanitary products in schools and public facilities, a positive step and shift in our government’s mentality. As Canadians, we can be proud that our government is beginning to recognize a healthcare gap within our country. Yet, we must continue to advocate for women’s rights and equality. After reading this article, you may think I am obsessed with periods, and maybe I am. More than anything, I just hope to live in a country, and hopefully, a world where those who experience periods can access the goods and services they need to experience their period healthily.
ARTICLE BY ALLIE MACGREGOR
HEADER IMAGE: SADIE LEVINE
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