A newly launched Free Flow pilot project at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) now provides free menstrual products in some campus bathrooms, because people “don’t have a choice to bleed.”
Tomiris Kaliyeva and Christine Quiah, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) president and vice-president, believe these products should be free.
Organizations and spaces like the Rainbow Lounge already offer free safer-sex supplies, including condoms, lube and dental dams. Kaliyeva says if free condoms are available on campus, pads and tampons should be free for students, too.
“If sexual safety is important, why isn’t menstrual safety important?” Kaliyeva says.
One in four Canadian women who menstruate have had to choose between buying period products or paying for other essentials like rent or groceries, according to a May 2023 survey from Leger, a Winnipeg-based market researcher, and Plan International Canada, an organization that advocates for children’s rights and equality for girls.
More than half of the women surveyed feel menstrual products are expensive. On average, Canadian women spend up to $6,000 in their lifetime on these supplies – and this cost can double for people living in rural and remote areas.
Eight U of W bathrooms in Centennial Hall, Richardson College and the Buhler Centre are now equipped with pad and tampon dispensers that Kaliyeva and Quiah restock twice a week.
They say the products are used up quickly.
Only one gender-neutral bathroom is stocked with free supplies. Some funding for the project comes from the women’s and gender studies department, but Kaliyeva and Quiah hope to secure more stable funding to add dispensers to more bathrooms.
Quiah says they want to add dispensers to more gender-neutral washrooms, especially since many students want to see more inclusivity in the distribution of menstrual products. For the time being, their resources are too limited to expand further.
Uzoma Asagwara, a former U of W student and Manitoba’s new health minister, says eliminating barriers to accessing period products can help students focus on their education and getting the most out of university.
“When I was going to school there, those products were not made free and readily accessible,” they say. “As someone who was a student on very, very limited means, I know what the struggle was to be able to have the financial resources to make ends meet and the sacrifices you sometimes have to make.”
The new provincial NDP government has a plan to improve healthcare for women that includes protecting reproductive rights and access to abortion and making prescription birth control free.
Asagwara says part of strengthening women’s healthcare is including menstrual products in discussions.
“We know that period poverty is very real,” Asagwara says. “We recognize that period poverty has had long-standing negative impacts on outcomes for those who menstruate.”
The UWSA Foodbank also has a program for students who need more than one product at a time. Students can fill out an online form to access free pads, tampons, liners or Diva Cups.
University of Winnipeg students can apply for free menstrual products at bit.ly/3MVgCaG. Applications will close when supplies run out.
Published in Volume 78, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 23, 2023)