86% of menstruators have reported starting their period in public without access to the menstrual products that they need to function throughout the day. Additionally, one third of all Canadian menstruators under the age of 25 experience period poverty and struggle to afford menstrual products. This was what led us to create free the dot., an initiative that in partnership with the USC & Food Support Services provides students with free pads, tampons, panty liners, menstrual cups, condoms, and dental dams. As part of this program, menstrual products are available to students in the bathrooms of the University Community Center. Students can also order products to their home.
Menstrual equity refers to the affordability, accessibility and safety of menstrual products. But menstrual equity is not just defined by products — it is also about education and reproductive care. Menstrual inequity stems from a lack of education and persisting taboos and stigma around the menstrual cycle. When individuals feel nervous to talk about menstruation, this can prevent them from coming forward to get access to the products they need. Therefore, menstrual equity is defined by the access to products & comprehensive education.
Comprehensive menstrual & sexual health education is important so that individuals can understand their bodies & feel comfortable to ask their questions & learn. It is important to reduce the stigma and spark conversations so that these topics can be a normalized topic of conversation. Without comprehensive education & conversation, conditions such as endometriosis continue to go dismissed and undiagnosed for years, and people often feel isolated, not understanding which experiences around their periods are “normal”. That’s why as part of free the dot., we’re hosting educational workshops. Our first workshop was held with Marlow, a new menstrual & sexual wellness start-up founded by a team of female Western alumni. The workshop focused on introducing students to the topic of menstrual equity, why it’s important, and what we as students can do to advocate for more comprehensive menstrual & sexual health education. Here are some of our takeaways from the workshop:
Change the culture & conversation
Growing up, many of us experienced the stigma around menstruation first-hand. Whether it be shoving tampons up our sleeve as we ran to the bathrooms or feeling nervous to check-out these items at the drugstore, the topic of menstruation was steeped in whispers and misinformation. However, during the workshop, this was many of the students’ first time talking openly about menstrual & sexual health. While it was nerve wracking at first, it felt incredible to talk so openly about these topics. After all, menstruation is a normal bodily occurrence for almost 50% of the population.
Opening the floodgates
We found that once we did spark these conversations, it was like opening the floodgates. This is because there’s a sense of comfort in knowing that other people are wondering the same questions that you are. When we feel comfortable talking about these topics, we can share common experiences & find reliable sources of information.
Menstrual health is an important part of overall health
Pinterest released their 2022 trends report which included “mindful menstruation”. Gen Z & millennial consumers are increasingly seeking to understand their menstrual & sexual health with terms like “period care” up 3x in search volume. We prioritize our physical wellness, our mental wellness, spiritual wellness, and now the next movement will be around menstrual & sexual wellness. We have seen large companies such as Sephora & Indigo embrace this new trend by launching their own sexual wellness categories on their websites. It won’t be long until menstrual & sexual health are viewed as a critical part of wholistic wellness.
In summary, it is exciting to see the broader societal shift to prioritize menstrual & sexual health as a key part of of overall wellness. With the free the dot., we’re hoping to provide students with access to products & education so that they can continue to prioritize their menstrual health. To support this initiative students can donate to help us restock supplies and cover the costs of shipping order. Additionally, students can sign our petition to show your support for the USC’s recommendation that Western University should invest in the provision of free menstrual products to be provided in all bathrooms on campus. Beyond this, the most important thing you can do is to spark conversations. Every conversation counts in normalizing these topics and they will create a ripple effect to spark many more conversations to come.