Education Minister Rob Fleming has ordered B.C. public school districts to provide free menstrual products for students in school washrooms by the end of this year.
Fleming said no student should have to miss school, sports or other activities because they are unable to afford menstrual products or lack ready access to them.
“Quite frankly, the provision of menstrual products in our school system is something that should have been just a basic that was covered and included a long time ago,” he said.
“But, as of today, it is, and I’m very, very pleased to be able to say that.”
Fleming’s ministerial order took effect Friday, but the province’s 60 public school districts will have until the end of 2019 to comply.
Esquimalt-Metchosin MLA Mitzi Dean, parliamentary secretary for gender equity, said the government will provide $300,000 in start-up money so that districts can immediately provide the products in school washrooms.
“This sets B.C. as a leader in fighting period poverty,” she said.
Dean said the issue poses a significant barrier for many young people across the country.
“In Canada, one in seven students has missed school due to their periods because they can’t afford or don’t have easy access to menstrual products,” she said.
“Now, even if they’re freely available in schools, it’s often in an administrative office and students feel uncomfortable asking for products in that way.”
Jordan Watters, who chairs the Greater Victoria school board, said the district has always provided free menstrual products through school administrative offices or medical rooms. But she said the board recently asked its student leadership committee for suggestions on ways to improve access.
“We were looking at how best to do that and this [order] might answer those questions for us,” she said. “There will be details to sort out in terms of how to manage that across a thousand washrooms. So that will present some challenges, but if it makes things easier and safer, and our schools more welcoming for our students, then that’s awesome.
“Obviously, we don’t want any young people having to go without in that way, so we’re really excited to see our government stepping up.”
Andrea Sinclair, president of B.C. Association of Parent Advisory Councils, praised the B.C. government for taking action.
“It’s just another step that the government’s taken to show that it actually does care about students,” she said. “From a different perspective, it’s a move that it is long overdue.”
Glen Hansman, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, said the union will consider challenging other provinces and territories to follow B.C.’s lead.
“Really B.C. is going to be the only province in Canada that’s doing this, even though it has an impact on half the student population that we serve,” he said.
“To have to go to the school office and ask the secretary or the principal for the basket that might have a pad or tampon, that’s something that not a lot of youth would feel comfortable doing. So to have something that’s accessible for free and in an area where a student can be discreet, that’s important.”
In a related move, the B.C. government announced a $95,000 grant for a United Way pilot project that is investigating ways to improve access to menstrual products for people living in poverty.