Two drugstores in downtown Toronto want to start offering free menstrual products to homeless women and people who use them.
The initiative, which is spearheaded by city Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam and Shoppers Drug Mart's Community Investment program, would install dispensers stocked with menstrual hygiene products like tampons and pads at two of the store's locations.
The dispensers could be accessed with a PIN code, which will be printed on small cards and handed out at several shelters in the area, according to a letter Shoppers' Community Investment director Lisa Gibbs wrote to city council.
In approving the program, the city would "support the health of women vulnerable due to homelessness, and acknowledge a basic human need," Gibbs said.
Even though tampons and pads may not be considered expensive, they're a consistent monthly cost. Until 2015, Canada treated menstrual products as taxable "luxury items," even though they were a necessary expense for most people.
WATCH: The Period Purse tackles homeless people's overlooked needs. Story continues after video.
A similar program already exists at a third Shoppers location in downtown Toronto, and has worked "to great effect," Wong-Tam wrote in the motion.
"For those who are economically marginalized, access to these products can come at great expense or sacrifice."
Period poverty affects a surprising number of Canadians: a nation study by Plan International earlier this year found that one-third of Canadian women under 25 have struggled to afford hygiene products to manage their periods. Seventy-seven per cent of respondents said that feminine hygiene products are one of the top material costs for women.
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Several Canadian universities in cities like Montreal, Calgary and Toronto have started offering menstrual products for free on their campuses.
"I think it's important to note that menstruation is not a lifestyle choice," Nikki Jamieson, president of the student union at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, said in August when her school started offering the products for free. She added that she thinks all public institutions should follow suit, including businesses and hospitals.
At the federal NDP's convention in Ottawa in February, the party passed a resolution stating menstrual products should be free. "Tampon and pads should be treated just like toilet paper," said Tiffany Balducci, a party delegate from the Durham Labour Council, referring to its accessibility in public washrooms. "They serve a similar purpose — items that tend to our everyday, normal bodily functions."
A 2017 pilot project in Aberdeen, Scotland provided free tampons and pads to more than 1,000 women and girls living in low-income households. Two years earlier, New York City councillor Julissa Ferreras-Copeland started a small project providing free menstrual products in several public school bathrooms, a program that was passed into law for the whole state as of April.
"The minute you have to ask someone for something that you need for your normal bodily function, you're creating a barrier," Ferreras-Copeland told Broadly.
Toronto city council will debate the motion this week.
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