Two Chinook’s Edge schools are part of an innovative provincial pilot project that provides free menstrual products in school washrooms.
HJ Cody School in Sylvan Lake and Innisfail Middle School are part of Period Promise, a United Way and Alberta government initiative involving 50 schools in the province. Staff in both schools were determined to take part, knowing that the cost of these products can create barriers for many students. Research shows that one in four Canadian people who menstruate say they have struggled to afford menstrual products for themselves or their children.
“I grew up in a home that experienced poverty and I remember the challenges I faced trying to obtain these products myself,” said Jamie Fisher, an EA at HJ Cody. “I figured there would be youth in our building who are likely struggling with this, and I knew it would serve our community well. In some of my quick calculations, it costs about $5,500 to fund the supplies needed from age 14 to 18. Those are huge and mostly invisible expenses for half of our students.
“Even just talking about it breaks down barriers. It has been empowering to see staff and students talking about the project. We are a compassionate and progressive staff, and our admin team is so open to all these big ideas.”
The Period Promise provides dispensers, tampons and napkins in washrooms throughout the schools.
“We are so thankful to the United Way Central Alberta and the government of Alberta for supporting such an important cause,” said Mike Garrow, principal at HJ Cody. “The Period Promise will support all of our students and families by minimizing the barriers associated with the costs of menstrual hygiene products. Our students will no longer have to miss school because they will have access to these products for free.”
“When I asked Mike if I could have an awkward conversation with him, he only raised an eyebrow that I thought the topic of menstruation might be awkward for him,” said Fisher. “He was fully supportive, and I am so grateful.”
“United Way Central Alberta has been tackling period poverty throughout our region this past year, and we are eager to partner with the government of Alberta and United Ways provincewide to expand Period Promise school pilots,” said Chelsea O’Donoghue, chief executive officer of United Way Central Alberta. “Data from our current school pilot in four Red Deer schools underlines the need for barrier-free access to pads and tampons, with over 62 per cent of respondents indicating they have left or missed school because period products weren’t available to them. Together, we are mobilizing to make a local impact on reducing vulnerability and isolation caused by period poverty, removing barriers to essential products, supporting gender equity and normalizing periods.”
According to Plan International Canada, 34 per cent of Canadian women and girls have had to regularly or occasionally sacrifice something else within their budget to afford menstrual products. A 2018 survey found that one in seven Canadian girls have missed school because they could not access menstrual products.