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A study from Plan International shows how period poverty affects Canadians. PHOTO: SAMREEN AHMED

Many women, girls and menstruating people struggle to afford pads and tampons, an issue known as period poverty. However, a new pilot project launched by the City of Calgary in collaboration with the Calgary Public Library and the Mayor’s Youth Council, hopes to help those in need by offering free period products in select city buildings. 

Since September, a four month long pilot program called Free. Period. has been giving pads and tampons at the following locations: 

The project puts full product dispensers in the washrooms, and a QR code survey has seen positive feedback so far. 

“As a person who grew up on the poverty line I love this initiative,” one user wrote. “For girls and women to not be ashamed and be able to have access to these products free is a great program.”

Another survey participant praised the program and recalled being faced with terrible choices as a young person.

The city has launched the Free.Period. pilot project in collaboration with the Mayor’s Youth City Council and Calgary Public Library. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FREE.PERIOD PILOT PROJECT

“I no longer need menstrual products, however there were times in my youth that I was forced to choose between food and cleanliness. Food ALWAYS lost. Thank you for doing this.”

According to a poll from Plan International Canada, one in three Canadian women have had to sacrifice something in their budget to purchase menstrual products. 

Jessica Clements, community development director of the Women’s Centre of Calgary, considers period poverty to also be a local issue based on the amount of times she sees these products being accessed at the centre. 

“Pretty much every time a woman comes in to access other services, she’s also accessing menstrual products,” Clements explains.

Samantha Lowe, director of health and wellness at The Mustard Seed, has seen this problem firsthand. 

“It’s funny because period poverty is something that we think about occurring more in developing nations and that’s sort of the vernacular around it,” Lowe says. “But it really is present within those experiencing poverty and homelessness here in the city.”

Lowe says that the financial burden of periods causes people to have to make difficult choices between menstrual products and other necessities. 

“Do you get your next meal or do you get some tampons?” Lowe explains. “Do you purchase pads or do you save up for, you know, a damage deposit for a place?” 

According to Calgary’s 2018 Point-in-Time Count, 25 per cent of homeless people were women. Period poverty can also look different for those experiencing homelessness. 

The Free.Period. pilot project QR survey has received positive feedback. PHOTO:SAMREEN AHMED

“That’s like a really big piece that not a lot of people might think about but if you got your period unexpectedly and you don’t have products for that, you don’t have other clothes to change into,” Clements explains. 

Much like Clements, Lowe has also seen this problem in her own work. 

“Our clients are already often dealing with an immense amount of trauma and there’s these societal norms that are associated with menstruation, unfortunately, that can sort of add layers of stigma to that.”

Lowe notes that there are many adverse health impacts of period poverty, such as overusing the same menstrual product and not having the ability to practice basic hygiene. 

“Being able to properly clean, bathe, all those wonderful things that we take for granted when we have a space essentially to access that,” Lowe says. “It comes down to equity in healthcare, because health is much more than just being able to access a doctor.”

Iliana Cutten had the healthcare of these people in mind when spearheading the Free. Period. project as part of the Mayor’s Youth Council.

“We were particularly looking at our stakeholders in terms of those who are non-binary, transgender, young girls, immigrants, older people, homeless people, the most vulnerable groups in our society and how are they going to be able to access these products,” Cutten explains. 

“And so our mission was to provide a space and the resources that they need to handle their period with dignity, as everyone should, and to be able to feel safe and hygienic as they’re menstruating.”

Cutten’s inspiration for the project stems from her own experiences seeing Calgarians struggling with period poverty.

“I noted it through working with youth programs and a lot of the girls had problems accessing period products,” Cutten explains. “So they were heavily relying on these city programs or just, like, people around for products.”

Jeny Mathews-Thusoo, the Inclusive Futures program lead for the city, says they were on board right away.

“What was awesome was the City of Calgary said, yeah, this is really important and we should be working on this.” 

The Free. Period. project’s expenses are being absorbed by the operating budget and the program will be evaluated after it wraps up in December, which will determine whether it will be expanded. 

A similar program has had success in British Columbia, and period products became free in Scotland last November. With accessibility to period products becoming a larger priority for many places, Mathews-Thusoo is hopeful about the future of this project in Calgary. 

“The fact of the matter is that we have to ensure that we live in a city that all people thrive.”

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