The District of Saanich will provide free menstrual products in all of its 281 public bathrooms by the end of June.
Menstrual product dispensers have been available in Saanich Municipal Hall for months, but free access to tampons and pads will soon be available in Saanich parks and rec centre washroom facilities.
“Period poverty is something that is a serious issue that we don’t talk about enough,” said Coun. Teal Phelps Bondaroff, “My hope is that we inspire other districts and other actors to do the same thing.”
Phelps Bondaroff likened the initiative to providing free toilet paper, saying not everyone can afford menstrual products — or carries them around all the time.
“There’s a taboo and stigma around talking about menstruation in our society,” said Phelps Bondaroff, who is also the chair of Access B.C., which successfully advocated for free prescription contraception in the province. “Having a little box with menstrual products in the washroom …. it could make someone’s day if they’re in need.”
The initial cost of making menstrual products freely available in women’s washrooms, men’s washrooms and gender-neutral bathrooms will be around $20,000, he said.
The District of Saanich spent $21,000 on toilet paper in 2021, he said, and the annual cost of restocking menstrual products will likely be less than that.
But not everyone supports the idea, particularly putting menstrual products in men’s bathrooms.
Coun. Colin Plant drew a “firestorm” of negative comments after he tweeted in support of trans men in response to the initiative on Monday night.
“I’ve never been told that I need to seek therapy before, that I’m sick, that I shouldn’t be around children, and that I’m a part of the problem,” he said. “While I appreciate diversity of opinion, I find that level of rudeness really counterproductive.”
He noted that the responses were mostly from unfamiliar accounts and that the same social media post received positive responses on Instagram and Facebook.
In response to the online hate, Plant posted a shot of his feet in the rainbow-coloured sneakers he usually wears in Pride parades.
“I believe that Saanich has done the right thing,” Plant said. “Really, some people are overblowing this.”
The online pushback against providing menstrual products in men’s bathrooms is disappointing but not surprising for Leah Shumka, the University of Victoria’s associate director of equity and human rights and gender studies instructor.
“Folks that are railing against [what they call] 'woke culture' are certainly here in Canada,” as they are in the U.S., Shumka said. “They see expanding the gender binary and thinking about creating inclusive spaces for trans folks as sort of woke culture gone too far,” adding that is “obviously problematic.”
Canada is “fairly inclusive of trans people at a legislative level,” Shumka said. But much more needs to be done to create inclusive spaces for trans people, she said.
“It’s everything from building design, [environmental] design, and thinking about all the ways that we gender the world around us” and how we need to change that way of thinking, she said.
“There is so much to consider,” she added. “Some people can get a bit stuck on just thinking in terms of bathrooms.”
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