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It is hard to believe that in the 21st century, our society is still facing stigma and poverty when it comes to periods.
Periods are a natural bodily function for women, girls and gender-diverse people. As such, good menstrual hygiene management is important to the overall health of our bodies. Using clean products, changing regularly, cleaning the product properly, and being aware of any changes in the cycle are all critical to menstrual hygiene management.
However, this is only attainable if products are accessible. Plan International Canada conducted a poll in 2019 and the results were shocking: one-third of Canadian women and girls in Canada have had to regularly or occasionally sacrifice something else in their budget to afford period products. On top of that, nearly two-thirds of Canadian women and girls have missed activities because of their periods and concerns about not being able to access period products or proper facilities. Those activities can be anything from work, to socializing and attending school. This means less Albertans are in classrooms, participating in our economy or adding to the fabric of our communities. Plan International Canada’s most recent study with Always found that during COVID-19, 1 in 7 young people with periods struggled to get period products, and 1 in 7 are worried about their ongoing ability to afford them.
The other, more disturbing shadow that looms over period poverty is the stigma and misinformation still surrounding periods. For centuries, periods, although completely natural, carried such a stigma that they were handled in secrecy. Myths and misinformation spread easily, and while it is shared with the best intentions, it often leads to shame, anxiety, and poor decisions that can affect health. This stigma can lead to using products for too long, using unclean alternatives, or ignoring symptoms that could be signs of larger problems.
We must all get more comfortable talking about periods, to help correct misinformation, lift the shame from the shoulders of those who menstruate, and help every woman, girl, and gender-diverse person achieve good menstrual hygiene.
On May 28, I had the honour of declaring the day Menstrual Hygiene Day in Alberta. This internationally recognized day shines a light on the importance of good menstrual hygiene management and encourages us all to talk more openly about periods.
There have been great strides in the past few months to help provide period products for all. The City of Edmonton recently announced that period products would be available for free at all city-operated facilities, and the Edmonton Public School Board also announced that period products would be made free in Edmonton Public schools. To coincide with the declaration of Menstrual Hygiene Day, I announced that the Alberta government is providing $260,000 to the United Way to partner on a province-wide Period Promise campaign that will distribute free menstrual hygiene products in schools across the province. These are important steps forward to normalizing periods and helping end period poverty.
But we all need to get more comfortable talking about periods, good menstrual hygiene and tackling misinformation. Lives depend on it.
To commemorate the declaration and the partnership with the United Way, I am asking Albertans to step up and donate period products to their local food banks or women’s shelters. Albertans are very giving people who love to lend a helping hand – this is another opportunity to show up for our neighbours in their time of need.
How to donate
- Donations are accepted at most food banks, women’s shelters and emergency shelters.
- If you are not sure if a local non-profit accepts period products, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. If they don’t, it is likely they can direct you to another non-profit in your area that can take your donation.
- Share photos of when you drop off your donations on social media using the hashtag #PeriodPromiseAB to raise awareness.
- Monetary donations are also beneficial to a number of organizations that focus on providing period products:
Leela Aheer served as Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women from April 30, 2019 to July 7, 2021.