Thank you for having me. I'm Danielle Kaftarian, operations manager at The Period Purse.
The Period Purse started in 2017 when our founder was driving to work one day. While she was at a red light, someone was panhandling at her car window and she had nothing to give them. That's when she had an “aha” moment: What does someone who is unhoused do while on their period? She had never thought of it, and when I heard about this “aha” moment, I had one of my own.
As we explored the answer to that question, we started to learn more about the broader picture of period poverty in Canada and to unpack many of the issues surrounding it and how it impacts one in seven people, from unhoused to employed folks.
As the menstrual movement has spread across Canada, with so many like-minded organizations supporting those who need it, we sit in front of you today as experts in menstrual equity to help advocate for those who are not here today.
We know from a Plan Canada study in 2022 that 22% of menstruating Canadians are using period products longer than they should because they can't afford more. That number rises to 33% in households earning $50,000 or less, and it increases even further to 48% for indigenous people.
The Period Purse is the first national charity to help alleviate period poverty. We have donated almost 4.8 million period products across Canada through our outreach program and we have educated over 5,000 people with period-positive presentations.
Our mission is to create menstrual equity by ensuring sustainable access to period products for all and, through education and advocacy, to end the stigma associated with periods.
When we have spoken to those in the communities we support, we have heard many stories of people choosing food over tampons; missing work and school; stealing products; and making makeshift tampons and pads out of things like old rags, toilet paper and sponges, which can lead to infections. I think we would all agree that this is not okay.
I want everyone to take a moment and reflect: Did anyone pack toilet paper in case they needed the washroom while they were here today, or did we just come knowing that it would be available if we required it? Using the washroom is something we can't control. It's biological, and the same thing goes for periods, so why are period products not in washrooms like toilet paper and soap are?
As we begin to examine the barriers to accessing period products, we see that affordability is a big one. It's estimated that in her lifetime, a Canadian woman will spend up to $6,000 on menstrual products. That's an extra expense that menstruators need to budget for.
We hear stories like those of Asha, who lives in a northern first nations territory and who tells us that a box of tampons can cost four to five times as much as one purchased in large urban cities. Even in rural cities, the prices are drastically more than they are for the same products here in Ottawa. Where you live in Canada should not be a barrier to the availability and cost of period products.
The Period Purse provides education on various subjects around periods, from what they are to why menstrual equity is important. Many are unaware of the options beyond disposable pads and tampons, so we teach them about reusable products and how to use them and clean them—products like menstrual cups, cloth pads and period underwear—to empower folks to choose products that are best for them.
We know that many lack access to clean water, and that this prevents people from choosing reusable products as their preferred option. Boil water advisories are just another barrier to consider while working towards menstrual equity.
Providing choice of products ensures that we're considering things like cultural and religious beliefs as well as sexual trauma, all things that can impact one's preferred choice of product.
I have heard countless stories from students who are missing out on class time to track down products from friends, guidance counsellors or teachers' desk drawers, all because products are not in the washroom. Saying that students should carry products with them at all times is not taking into account that this could be their first period or it could be unexpected as they learn how their bodies work.
I have also heard stories about products being in boys' washrooms so that male students are able to take them home for their mother or sister who need them. It's such a simple step to reduce stigma around periods.
As we work alongside community partners that support 2SLGBTQ+ people, we know that having safe washrooms is critical to menstrual equity. All people who menstruate deserve to have access to free products. Without access to washrooms, transgender and non-binary people may have to choose between a washroom that matches their gender identity and one that has the period products and amenities they need. Entering a washroom that doesn't align with one's gender identify and expression can be dangerous, both mentally and physically.
In closing, as you can see, there are many layers and things to unpack around this topic, and we have only scratched the surface today. As more people become comfortable, there will be more stories told and more things to learn. Menstrual equity isn't just about handing out pads and tampons; it needs to coincide with education and advocacy to make impactful changes.
I'm pleased to see that the Government of Canada as well as other levels of government are striving towards taking steps forward to support the goal of menstrual equity. I would love to continue this conversation with anyone who would like to learn more after today.
I hope everyone walks away having learned something new and perhaps having had their own “aha” moment.