Free menstrual products arrive in Ontario schools, announces Education Minister Stephen Lecce

Some six million menstrual products will be provided annually for free to Ontario schools as part of a three-year program announced Friday by Education Minister Stephen Lecce, following pressure from youth leaders and school boards.

The measure, which some boards had implemented in 2019, addresses the growing awareness of “era poverty,” where girls do not have access or cannot afford towels and tampons, interfering with their ability to participate in sports and activities or even attend school.

Some other provinces have similar initiatives underway.

“I am so excited to hear this. This is great news, ”said Jazzlyn Abbott, 17, a senior at Valor School in Petawawa.

“This is something we’ve been advocating for for the past year, on my own school board and provincially,” added Abbott, a student trustee for the Renfrew County District School Board and president of the Ontario Student Trustees Association. .

Lecce said the Ontario program is supported by the Shoppers Drug Mart, which will provide sanitary pads starting late this fall.

“Through the strong advocacy of young leaders in our schools, it has become very clear that menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury,” Lecce said in a written statement.

“This agreement will help remove barriers for women and girls by allowing them to access products at school for free. It is another important way that we are helping to build more inclusive schools that empower all girls so they have the confidence to be successful. “

The Education Ministry says both student trustees and about half of all school boards cited the poverty of the period as a concern.

NDP education critic Marit Stiles called the announcement “a victory for students, organizations and school boards, who have fought for years for governments to address the problem of era poverty and make sure that no student will ever face embarrassment or miss school due to lack of access to menstrual products. “

She praised individual students and public boards such as Thames Valley, Toronto, and Waterloo for independently moving forward on the issue after hearing from students.

“Ontario should have created this legislation years ago, following the lead of provinces like British Columbia and Nova Scotia,” as well as Prince Edward Island, Stiles said, noting that he had introduced such a motion in the Ontario legislature in 2019.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association, said that “the government has assigned 1,200 pad dispensers to school boards based on the number of high schools. Without a doubt, this is good news; however, it should be noted that this is an issue that needs to be addressed in elementary and middle schools as well. School boards will seek to distribute products in school spaces that are easily accessible to students. “

He also said boards would like to see “more types of menstrual products offered” through the provincial initiative, such as tampons.

Last July, the Avon Maitland District School Board wrote to Lecce, saying “we are currently working to provide gender neutral, feminine menstrual products in school bathrooms. Easy access to high-quality free products is fundamentally a human rights issue and crucial to the health, well-being, and success of students by increasing confidence, respecting dignity, reducing potential financial burden, and mitigating student absences. students “.

Menstrual hygiene, the board added, “is not a luxury. Period Poverty is real “.

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