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Rob Shaw: Eby praises period poverty cause as provincial task force gets underway

Premier-designate David Eby has thrown his early support behind one of the BC NDP’s most laudable causes – the movement to make menstrual products like tampons and pads universally available for free in as many public spaces as possible.
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Premier-designate David Eby has thrown his early support behind one of the BC NDP’s most laudable causes – the movement to make menstrual products like tampons and pads universally available for free in as many public spaces as possible.

Eby took to social media Friday with a video praising the first meetings of the Period Poverty Task Force, which the government kickstarted in May with $750,000 in seed money through the United Way British Columbia.

“No one should have to choose between buying groceries and period products, it’s that simple,” he said.

“And yet 50 per cent of those who need period products will struggle to buy them at some point in their lives. With inflation also driving up the cost of other essentials like gas and groceries, it’s only getting more challenging.

“Period poverty is real and we’re working hard to end it. Part of the problem is stigma and silence around menstruation. Our government is tackling this issue head on.”

The NDP government may get flak on some files, but on this particular issue it is a leader in Canada. The province in 2019 made menstrual products free and available in all K-12 schools. By commissioning the task force, it has signalled a willingness to at least consider pushing universal access for period products into all public spaces in the future.

“The government is pretty aware that they have appointed a number of people who come from pretty cool activist backgrounds and aren’t going to be shy to point out where they see the holes (in policy),” said Nikki Hill, a Vancouver-based public relations professional with a long history of advocacy on the subject, who now chairs the task force.

Research by Period Promise has shown 26 per cent of people surveyed have had to go through a period without access to menstrual products, and it has further isolated them from society by missing school, work, community and social events.

The solution is not as simple as the government throwing money at the problem to mass-purchase tampons and pads, either.

“We hear it all the time, that that money should just go do X and Y, but that’s a short-term solution,” said Hill.

“The future does look like menstrual products in bathrooms like toilet paper and soap, that’s a pretty common theme. But then how do people [access menstrual products] who aren’t in those places, or don’t have a workplace, or are in families that don’t or won’t get them what they need?”

If B.C. only focuses on the physical spaces, it misses out on the core issue of planning and access in the first place, she said.

For example, during last year’s historic flooding, when people were displaced from their homes in the Fraser Valley and Interior, the United Way was organizing plane and helicopter air-drops of tampons and pads to people who were unable to access them anywhere else, said Hill.

“Of course we’ll have to make sure products are accessible, but if it’s not built into emergency management planning, who is responsible for making sure supplies go into communities affected by a climate crisis?” she asked. “We’re going to take a holistic report on what government can do.”

The seven-person task force has representatives from the business, non-profit and academic sectors, as well as Jackie Jack, a member of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth First Nation on northern Vancouver Island who has experience helping people in rural and remote Indigenous communities get access to menstrual products.

People living in poverty, including Indigenous and disability community members, are historically overrepresented amongst those unable to access period products when needed.

The task force has created sub-reference groups, linking together members with key players such as Procter & Gamble and Shoppers Drug Mart, which in the past have helped donate products to period poverty campaigns.

“We don’t want to be a group prescribing things from just our experiences, particularly from those of us within the Lower Mainland, and those of us who don’t have lived experience in poverty,” said Hill.

B.C.’s experts will also study provincial legislation, and whether the province could mirror Scotland, which in 2021 became the first jurisdiction to make it a legal right for people to access free menstrual products in public buildings.

“We’ll look at physical placement, stigma, education and why there’s so much stigma still about menstruation,” said Hill.

The group is mandated to deliver a report by March 2024, but Hill said recommendations will likely be issued before then, as they are settled upon.

In the meantime, people can still donate to the issue through the United Way’s Period Promise page, or by encouraging their workplaces to sign the Period Promise policy agreement to make products free and accessible for everyone. Rob Shaw has spent more than 14 years covering B.C. politics, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is the co-author of the national bestselling book A Matter of Confidence, and a regular guest on CBC Radio. [email protected]