In some Canadian provinces, such as British Columbia, policies exist to provide free menstrual products in public schools but Alberta has not followed suit. 

End Period Poverty from MRU Journalism on Vimeo.

In Calgary, university students are faced with many expenses. The cost of paying for menstrual products, for those who need them, can cause additional financial strain.

Diana Bohutska, an international relations and education student at the University of Calgary, says if she forgets to bring her own menstrual products to class, she often feels frustrated with the cost of what is offered in the school’s washrooms.

“As students, you already don’t have a lot of money as is,” she says. “And you’re charging a dollar or even 50 cents for something I already have.”

To add to the frustration, condoms are offered for free on most campuses. Bohutska feels menstrual products should be equally as accessible as condoms, or even more so. 

“In my opinion, women’s products should be accessible for free for women and they should be right next to the freakin’ condoms.”

Universities not doing enough

While the U of C offers priced menstrual products in women’s washrooms, not every Calgary campus is like this. Ambrose University does not provide any products, even at a cost, in their women’s washrooms.

Ambrose Student Council president, Maddy Kehler, says offering free menstrual products is not a priority at the school, however, she personally supports the idea.

“I think maybe in comparison to finances or big mental health [projects], it’s a little lower on the radar, but I still think that it’s something that is a priority that needs to be addressed on campus,” Kehler says.

Possible health ramifications 

Unlike Ambrose, the U of C does offer menstrual products in women’s washrooms, but they are still not the best quality products and sometimes the dispensers aren’t working or are empty, says Bohutska.

“I don’t think they’re doing enough… if you go into a bathroom right now, what are the chances of a machine being fully workable [with] a decent quality product in there?”

According to Aisle, a menstrual product retailer, when people who menstruate can’t afford adequate products they start looking for alternative ways to handle the problem and this may include wearing their pads or tampons for much longer periods of time.

When tampons are worn longer than the prescribed time, they can start to create health problems like toxic shock syndrome. This can be fatal or cause urinary tract infections, which can lead to even greater health issues.

Necessary to promote the availability of products

Though there are various ways that lack of access to menstrual products can cause health issues, there are several different views on if these products should be free.

Shereen Samuels, director of student services for Mount Royal University’s student association, SAMRU, believes that although menstrual products should be considered a necessity, it does not necessarily mean they must be free. Samuels does, however, see some room for improvement when it comes to the cost of menstrual products. 

“I certainly don’t think they should have GST applied to them, for example.” 

The SAMRU is not attached to the university itself, but represents students’ needs. While they provide tampons in both male and female restrooms in Wyckham House Student Centre on the MRU campus for a fee, they also offer free products in the peer support office located in Wyckham House. 

The only concern with these free offerings is that raising students’ awareness of these products is “one of the things that the students’ association always struggles with,” Samuels says. 

If these free products are not being properly advertised, it’s not likely students will find out about them, especially because those who menstruate do not typically feel comfortable discussing concerns they have around menstruation and access to adequate products.

Mount Royal University business student, Ebube Okeke, worries bringing up the topic may cause discomfort, especially when men are involved.

“Some men are still kind of uncomfortable about the topic and so if you were to bring it up to maybe a male superior, like a male prof or someone… you kind of don’t want to put them in that situation where they’re uncomfortable.”

Because of this, those who menstruate and can’t afford adequate products tend to silently struggle instead of speak out.

Bohutska says the hesitancy to discuss issues involving menstruation also occurs because there is an assumption that those speaking up will not be taken seriously.

“For any woman to bring this up, it wouldn’t be something that she would be comfortable or inspired to talk about,” she says.

“They automatically know it’s just going to be shut down, just because it’s not the biggest priority.”