COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating period poverty, removing access to products


Periods are a monthly visitor for people around the world yet many struggle just to talk about menstruation.

“Periods are one of the last great taboo topics,” said Amanda Laird, author of Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation. “My hope is that everybody would see this as a perfectly normal bodily function, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Menstrual Health Day falls on May 28 every year, given that the average menstrual cycle is 28 days.

“It’s just a day that we celebrate and bring awareness to periods and menstrual health and hygiene because periods is just health,” explained Jana Girdauskas, founder of The Period Purse.

Girdauskas’ charity strives to achieve menstrual equity by providing people with access to free menstrual products, and to reduce the stigma surrounding periods through public education and advocacy.

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Girdauskas pointed to the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on people who are menstruating and cannot access period products.

“People who before were going into libraries or healthcare centres really easily — all that stuff is closed in the pandemic and so it’s making it harder to find that access,” she said.

Girdauskas noted this has not only been a difficult time, but it can be a dangerous one for many people seeking alternatives to pricey period products.

“We know from stories from people we’ve given to, who are living on the streets or in shelters, that they have to make their pads or tampons and that leads to infections and lack of dignity,” she said.

Periods don’t stop in a pandemic, she pointed out.

For that reason, The Period Purse volunteers have been busy this past year packing products and donating to more clients than ever before.

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“This year alone, this is one month’s supply of pads and tampons,” she said, holding up a freezer bag filled with pads and tampons. “We’ve done 33,000 of these. The need is so great in Toronto alone last year we were only able to service 31 per cent of the needs.”

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Running The Period Purse is more than a passion project for Girdauskas.

“Everyone deserves to have a dignified period whether they’re experiencing homelessness or living on the margins because those people are picking to put a meal on their table or to buy a pack of pads … We want them to have both,” she said.

In Canada, there are efforts under way by various school boards to provide free menstruation products in bathrooms.

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Earlier this month, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) wrote a letter to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce asking for funding for free menstrual products in all schools in the province.

“Menstrual hygiene products are not a luxury. They are necessary and essential to menstrual health, comfort and participation in school, work and society,” wrote TDSB Chair Alexander Brown.

Toronto obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Yolanda Kirkham is hopeful companies will reduce the prices of their menstrual products and people will donate to those in need.

“I’d love to see a Canadian task force work on menstrual equity and period poverty,” she said. “We can look at countries like Scotland who was the first one to make all menstrual products free.”

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Girdauskas looks forward to a day when these products are in every bathroom “and it’s there free, just like toilet paper and soap is.”

For Amanda Laird, who also hosts The Heavy Flow Podcast about periods, reproductive health and health and wellness topics, talking about menstruation and removing the stigma may also mean healing the physical pain.

“Most people experience painful periods every month or sometimes and that could be from a little bit of cramping or a period migraine to serious diseases like endometriosis and if we can’t talk about periods, we can’t get relief from our pain because this affects people’s lives,” she said.

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