Cycle of Change: Towards Menstrual Justice

Science & Policy Exchange
4 min readMay 2, 2024

By Maïa Dakessian, Science & Policy Exchange

Menstrual products are a basic need. Unfortunately, more than 500 million people globally do not have access to menstrual supplies.

Whether hiding a tampon in your sleeve on your way to the washroom or quickly shoving a menstrual pad in your backpack when your friend lends you one (if you’re brave enough to ask!), taboo surrounding menstruation makes it difficult for menstruators to openly discuss periods without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

In many cultures and families, menstruation is considered a taboo topic. Addressing period stigma requires challenging negative stereotypes and beliefs, such as the idea that menstruating individuals are ‘’unclean’’ or ‘’emotionally unstable’’ during their periods.

Taboo about menstruation can add barriers to access menstrual products or education regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights. Period poverty is the lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these. It is a global public health issue that disproportionately impacts the physical and mental health of younger individuals, single mothers, people experiencing homelessness, immigrants, people living with disabilities and individuals living in remote areas. Period poverty also disproportionately impacts Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, and LGBTQ2SIA+ individuals.

Taboo surrounding menstruation makes it difficult for menstruators to openly discuss periods without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.

For example, young menstruators experiencing period poverty are more likely to miss school as a result of not having access to adequate period protection. Consequently, the affected individuals face greater barriers to having a quality education and eventually a job, thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Source of Figure: Figure prepared by the Library of Parliament with data obtained from Always and Plan International Canada, Let’s Talk Periods! Menstrual Health and Hygiene in Canada, 2020; Environics Research, Attitudes and Awareness of Menstrual Equity and Period Poverty Among Canadians, Executive Summary, prepared for Women and Gender Equality Canada, 31 March 2023; and Leger and Plan International Canada, The Hidden Cost of Periods: A Canadian Perspective, 19 May 2023.

Menstrual equity initiatives aim to address period poverty issues by increasing access to menstrual products, improving education about menstruation, and breaking down societal stigmas surrounding periods. Initiatives to increase access to menstrual products often involve distributing free or subsidized menstrual products in schools, workplaces, and community centers. As for initiatives to improve education about menstruation, many platforms online, such as Your Period from the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada offers resources to help educate ourselves and others about menstrual health and to have open conversations to destigmatize periods. In school systems, sex education curricula can dramatically vary depending on different school systems because of the stigma around menstruation. Thus, external resources play a vital role in supplementing academic courses to offer unbiased reproductive health education about reproductive health.

Simultaneously, menstrual equity initiatives advocate for policy changes to remove taxes on menstrual products. In 2014, Canadians collectively spent $519,976,963 on menstrual products. With a 5% federal tax on these essential items, the government collected more than $36 million in tax revenue over the year. Fortunately with Bill C-282 introduced to the House of Commons in 2013 and the No Tax on Tampons campaign, feminine hygiene products were added to the Canadian federal government’s list of tax-exempt items in 2015. The abolition of this federal tax, that some consider a sexist tax, is essential to promote menstrual justice and gender equity. With the launch of the #EndPeriodPoverty program in 2018, Canada continues to actively address menstrual equity, by reducing the financial burden of menstrual products. At the provincial level, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Ontario have committed to providing free menstrual products in schools and New Brunswick has been offering menstrual products in public libraries.

In recent news, Women and Gender Equality Canada has launched the #MenstrualEquityFund pilot in collaboration with Food Banks Canada to address menstrual equity and combat period poverty. The Government of Canada has partnered with this national food banking network so that 570 000 low-income individuals or families per month don’t have to choose between buying menstrual products or buying food. In fact, a survey by Plan International Canada in partnership with Leger conducted in 2023 revealed that 1 in 4 Canadian menstruating women above the age of 18 had to choose between period products or paying for food or rent.

Within the #MenstrualEquityFund pilot, efforts to increase accessibility to menstrual products have been deployed. Since November 2021, an initiative of Indigenous Services Canada aims to provide menstrual products in First Nations schools on reserves and in federal schools across Canada. Additionally, Employment and Social Development Canada has been providing free menstrual products in federally regulated workplaces since December of 2023.

The lack of access to menstrual products, compounded by societal stigma, perpetuates period poverty, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities.

The discourse surrounding menstruation must evolve to acknowledge it as a fundamental biological function rather than a taboo. The lack of access to menstrual products, compounded by societal stigma, perpetuates period poverty, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities. By prioritizing menstrual equity, we can create a more inclusive and supportive society where individuals have the resources they need to manage their periods with dignity and without barriers.

Let’s contribute to ending period stigma. There are several ways to help support the cause. Consider donating to or volunteering with organizations dedicated to promoting menstrual equity in Canada. For instance, The Period Purse, based in Toronto, focuses on education and advocacy to combat stigma. Additionally, Bleed the North, a federally registered non-profit, actively works to end period poverty and stigma while advocating for menstrual legislation in Canadian politics. By taking these actions, we can contribute to creating a more equitable and stigma-free society around menstruation.



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