Evidence of meeting #73 for Status of Women in the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was products.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Suzanne Siemens  Chief Executive Officer, Aisle International
Jillian Johnston  Advocacy Coordinator, Days for Girls Canada Society
Nicola Hill  Chair, Government of British Columbia, Period Poverty Task Force
Linda Biggs   Co-Chief Executive Officer, joni
Leisa Hirtz  Chief Executive Officer, Women's Global Health Innovations

June 12th, 2023 / 11 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

I call this meeting to order.

Welcome to meeting number 73 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of June 23, 2022. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.

I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses and members.

Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating by video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike, and please mute yourself when you are not speaking.

Interpretation is available. For those on Zoom, you have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French. For those in the room, you can use the earpiece and select the desired channel. As a reminder, all comments should be addressed through the chair.

For members in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand. For members on Zoom, please use the “raise hand” function. The clerk and I will manage the speaking order as best we can, and we appreciate your patience and understanding in this regard.

In accordance with the committee's routine motion concerning connection tests for witnesses, I'm informing the committee that all witnesses appearing virtually have completed the required connection tests in advance of the meeting.

We are now turning to our menstrual equity in Canada study.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted on Thursday, April 27, 2023, the committee will resume its study on menstrual equity in Canada.

Today, I would like to welcome our panellists.

We have, from Aisle International, Suzanne Siemens, chief executive officer. From Days for Girls Canada Society, we have Jillian Johnston, advocacy coordinator. She is joining us by video conference. From the Government of British Columbia, we have the period poverty task force, we have Nicola Hill. She is the chair, and you will also find her online. From joni, we have Linda Biggs, co-chief executive officer, here in the room. From Women's Global Health Innovations, we have Leisa Hirtz, chief executive officer.

We have a larger panel today, so we are doing five for the full hour and a half. We'll be starting this panel and going until 12:30 today, so we'll just continue this. There are five panels at this time. We'll be providing five minutes to each speaker. When you see me start to flail my arms, that means your time is wrapping up. If you could wrap it up within 15 seconds, that would be fantastic.

I'm going to turn the floor over now to Suzanne Siemens.

You have your five minutes. Go ahead.

11 a.m.

Suzanne Siemens Chief Executive Officer, Aisle International

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to the committee for conducting this really important study on menstrual equity.

Good morning, everyone. My name is Suzanne Siemens, and I'm the co-founder and CEO of Aisle. Established in 1993, this year marks our 30-year anniversary of being a leading innovator in sustainable menstrual care. While we've seen many changes in the past three decades, we are most excited about the changes to the Canada labour code and the announcement of the menstrual equity fund. I'm here with my colleagues today to share a bold message that we are poised and ready to help make sustainable period equity a reality for millions of Canadians.

Aisle specializes in making washable pads and leak-proof period underwear. Our products are best known for their lasting performance, for their reliable record on PFAS testing and for offering inclusive styles for menstruators of all sizes and gender expressions. It is our strong belief that every menstruator deserve to feel affirmed and comfortable in their body during their period.

My colleagues from the Period Purse emphasized this to the committee last week: Providing diverse product choices and multiple ways to access period products is critical to those on low incomes, living in remote areas and living with disabilities. We understand that conventional plastic-based disposable products are a really practical solution in many cases, but we also know from our partnerships with the United Way in B.C. and the Period Purse in Ontario that reusables can be a great choice for these communities.

Here are some reasons why reusables are a product choice for many of these groups. The first is comfort and peace of mind. Because they are reusable, they're more easily accessible and they don't run out. In a follow-up study by the United Way in B.C., a common sentiment among users was that they preferred reusables, because it gave them a greater sense of control and dramatically reduced their anxiety.

The second is affordability and financial savings. In addition to our own analysis, independent studies show that reusables save up to 15 times the cost compared to single-use disposables. With inflation and the cost of living rising every year, having reusables means not having to budget for or seek out new menstrual products every month.

Third, there are waste and energy savings. We conducted a product life-cycle analysis that showed that using Aisle products reduced waste up to 99%, reduced energy consumption up to 94%, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 95%. This environmental data is tracked on our website in real time.

Aisle is one of the top ranked period care B corporations in the world. This certification means we are deeply committed to ethically making products that benefit all our stakeholders, our community, our employees and our planet. For decades, we've been advocates for policy change, raised awareness, developed educational materials and established programs with delivery partners to provide sustainable menstrual products to those in need.

With this committee's attention on menstrual equity, we feel that now is the perfect opportunity for Canada to take the global lead. Already, countries like Scotland have written into legislation the provision of free disposable, sustainable and reusable products to all of its citizens. As Madeleine Shaw, from the Sustainable Menstrual Equity Coalition of Canada, said last week, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to period poverty.

I am here to ask the committee to pass a resolution to specifically include sustainable and reusable products in the choice of product recommendations during both the program rollout for the Canada labour code changes and for the menstrual equity fund.

Without such mention, it will be all too easy to fall back to the status quo, which tends to support the procurement of low-cost plastic-based disposable products, many of which can take hundreds of years to biodegrade. Without specific mention of women-led SMEs in the procurement process, our concern is that large multinational corporations will be the de facto or easy choice, and ultimately stand to benefit from the program. This leaves out women-led companies, such as ours. Women have spent their entire careers dedicated to providing solutions that prioritize the health of Canadians and our planet.

Consider this: By leveraging the innovation of Canadian women entrepreneurs, there's an exciting opportunity to achieve a significant milestone, one that prioritizes sustainability, gender equity and the prosperity of women-led SMEs towards menstrual equity. Together, we can achieve a result that we can all be proud to say we accomplished together.

Thank you for inviting me here today, and I look forward to your questions.

11:05 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much.

We're now going to turn online to Jillian Johnston from Days for Girls Canada Society for five minutes.

11:05 a.m.

Jillian Johnston Advocacy Coordinator, Days for Girls Canada Society

Thank you.

Good morning. My name is Jill Johnston, and today I'm in my home in London, Ontario, on the traditional territories of the Anishinabe, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron nations.

I'd like to begin by telling all of you that I respect the work you are doing and that I appreciate this opportunity to participate in it.

I am the advocacy coordinator for Days for Girls Canada. I am appearing today to represent Days for Girls Canada and to speak about our work with Changing the Flow in a collaborative initiative called “Share the Platform”.

We all recognize that currently there are many barriers to menstrual equity in Canada. My list of barriers is in the brief I prepared, but I’d like to mention specifically the limited education available to Canadians about menstrual health.

As a retired teacher, I value education very highly, and I can attest to the importance of providing access to information that is clear, accurate and inclusive. When it comes to menstrual health education specifically, my teaching experience has taken place since my retirement. As a Days for Girls team leader, I am proud of every DfG menstrual kit my team has sewn, but I'm even more proud of the teaching I have done as a Days for Girls menstrual health ambassador in Kenya, Haiti, Guyana and here in Canada.

After every distribution, I know without a doubt that the information I have shared is life-changing for an entire community. In our Share the Platform work, Changing the Flow and Days for Girls Canada aim to share information that is life-changing for all Canadian menstruators. In our Share the Platform work, we intentionally use language that includes girls, women, trans men, trans boys, non-binary, gender-fluid and gender non-conforming individuals and all others who experience menstruation.

Our Share the Platform vision is optimal menstrual health for everyone who menstruates. Menstrual health is defined as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being throughout the lifetime of individuals who menstruate. That full definition, found in the documentation I've provided, is a comprehensive one and is the basis for all our Share the Platform work as we advance menstrual equity.

Our Share the Platform collaboration with Changing the Flow has evolved over the past two years. We began as two menstrual health organizations collaborating to present bimonthly virtual events to advance menstrual equity. Our exciting new initiative involves taking the lead on the period-positive workplace campaign for Canada. This is a global campaign designed to encourage private sector businesses to support menstrual health in their workplaces.

Share the Platform congratulates all three federal ministries that are taking positive steps towards menstrual equity in Canada. We appreciate the action taken by the indigenous affairs ministry to ensure first nations communities will receive the products they need. It has been exciting and very encouraging to be given the opportunity to participate in the consultation process with WAGE and the menstrual equity fund pilot and to realize that we are being heard.

The recent announcement by the labour ministry that new regulations regarding menstrual health in federally regulated workplaces will be in place by December 2023 is a huge step forward for Canada. Share the Platform sees the Canadian labour ministry initiative as a model to be followed in our own Canadian period-positive workplace campaign. We will encourage private sector businesses to supply free menstrual products in their workplaces and to become PPW-certified for doing so—that's period-positive workplace certified. We are prepared to support organizations impacted by the new regulations for federally regulated workplaces, as well as the private sector businesses that we are targeting. We will offer education, implementation assistance, access to resources for purchase and information about best practices.

I will conclude by emphasizing that, as Share the Platform, both Changing the Flow and Days for Girls Canada acknowledge that our federal government is leading by example. It is our hope that the developing plan will be designed to transition into a sustainable course of action: a plan that ensures access to free menstrual products for all Canadians in need; a plan that educates all Canadians in order to break down the barriers to menstrual equity; a plan that provides financial incentives to organizations that need to invest in education and structural improvements in order to ensure full access to free menstrual products at all times; and, most of all, a plan that supports menstrual health organizations across Canada as we work together for all who menstruate.

Thank you for this opportunity. I look forward to your questions.

11:10 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thanks so much, Jillian. I greatly appreciate it.

We'll now move to the Government of British Columbia and Nicola Hill, from the period poverty task force.

11:10 a.m.

Nicola Hill Chair, Government of British Columbia, Period Poverty Task Force

Thank you, Madam Chair and esteemed committee, for the invitation to appear before this committee on this important issue.

My name is Nikki Hill and I'm the chair of the Government of B.C.'s period poverty task force. I am here today on the traditional unceded territory of the Katzie First Nation.

The task force was established in May 2022. I'm also the former co-chair of the United Way's “Period Promise” campaign in B.C., which is an initiative that I introduced to the organization in 2016.

The Government of B.C. appointed the period poverty task force in 2022 to explore the various factors that contribute to period poverty and to find solutions. The task force is mandated to develop short-, medium- and long-term recommendations, which are due in March 2024. I am honoured to chair that body. We meet regularly and are focused on learning about the depth and breadth of this issue, which ranges from poverty and menstrual health to education and sustainability, and the issues that are impacting period poverty in our communities and across the country.

While we began our work largely to address the need to get products directly to people, we quickly evolved to a policy-based campaign as a result of the input from the public. These are stories that were unheard for too long due to the stigma surrounding menstruation—stigma that is only perpetuated when menstruation is insufficiently addressed in education, as is the current state in our school system.

It often surprises people to hear that our country has stigma around basic bodily functions, but it's a reality that stops too many people from getting their needs fulfilled in order to participate in work, school, sports and community activities. It will continue to do so if not addressed.

Whether it was a teacher who told us that they had purchased menstrual products for years from their own funds knowing kids in their class wouldn't make it to school without them, the low-wage workers who missed shifts because they couldn't cover the cost of menstrual products for the day—therefore, losing money they couldn't afford to lose—or the people living in poverty who have had to use unsafe methods to manage menstruation every month, these are the stories that shape our work. These are stories backed up by research, which you've heard from other witnesses.

It is important to remember that period poverty is a generalized symptom of poverty. As a result, those equity-seeking groups that experience poverty are most likely to have challenges accessing menstrual products when they are needed. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, indigenous people who are disproportionately impacted by period poverty, single mothers, trans folks, people of colour, immigrants and refugees, people living with disabilities and youth. As a generalized symptom of poverty, period poverty also has a close alignment with household food insecurity.

With people struggling more to afford basic needs due to the challenges of the cost of living and inflation adding to the pressure that the pandemic brought, this is more critical than ever before. We have direct input from people who have had to decide between menstrual products and buying food for their families, and of children being arrested for stealing menstrual products when their parents could not afford them.

As noted in the “Period Promise” research project report, providing menstrual products to the public through community organizations should be one nested strategy in a bundle of strategies that would dramatically increase access to free menstrual products for everybody who menstruates. The other points of access for free products that were recommended by respondents to the public survey included post-secondary institutions, workplaces, government-operated washrooms, pharmacies and other regularly accessed public spaces. This would all result in the same access that we provide for soap and toilet paper without question.

Our task force's earliest recommendations to the Government of B.C.—which leads in Canada through its implementation of menstrual products provision in the K to 12 system in 2019—include initiating the implementation of menstrual product provision in B.C. government buildings with public access, with a focus on the following locations to increase access to menstrual products for vulnerable people. We also recommend ensuring that people who are displaced by emergencies such as fires and floods have immediate access to basic necessities for menstruation.

While progress has been made across Canada, eradicating period poverty won't be accomplished with a one-size-fits-all approach, and we have much more work to do ahead. Governments must continue to make progress to ensure that the provision of menstrual products is included in the development of programs and actions. Addressing these issues is not only about menstruation. It's about equality and socio-economic advancement.

I am pleased to take any questions from the committee.

11:15 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

We're back into the room with Linda Biggs, the co-chief executive officer for joni.

Go ahead, Linda. You have the floor for five minutes.

11:15 a.m.

Linda Biggs Co-Chief Executive Officer, joni

Good morning. Thank you to this committee for conducting this important study and for the invitation to be here today with my industry colleagues.

My name is Linda Biggs, and I'm the co-founder and co-CEO of joni, a 21st-century period care brand. We're making sustainable period care accessible to everyone who needs it.

When we first launched joni in 2020, we read a statistic by Plan International Canada that one in three women under the age of 25 is unable to afford period care in Canada. It was because of this statistic that we built a 5% giveback model, working with dozens of Canadian non-profits, like United Way, Moon Time Sisters and the Period Purse, over the last three years to distribute over 110,000 donated products across the country, including to remote areas and indigenous communities.

It was also because of this statistic and the distribution issues we saw that we created our innovative, direct-to-consumer packaging that allows us to ship for free anywhere in Canada. This means that someone living in a remote community who might otherwise pay $30 or more for a box of pads—if they can find one—now has access to organic and plastic-free products delivered to their home for the same price that someone living in an urban area has access to.

It is these types of innovative solutions that are needed as part of a team Canada approach to make menstrual equity possible in Canada.

According to freethetampons.org, 87% of people who menstruate have been caught off guard, and 34% of them will leave school, work or sports to find a solution. When over 26% of the population menstruates, having period care accessible, just like toilet paper, can impact over nine million people in Canada. Menstrual equity means accessible period care for everyone who needs it.

When I was growing up, I remember waiting in food bank lines with my mother. As a new immigrant from Mexico, she worked several jobs trying to make ends meet. As a competitive swimmer, I often got tampons from friends and wore them longer than recommended because we just didn't have enough. While I didn't have the terminology of “period poverty”, I knew that our funds didn't cover basic household needs. Oftentimes, donated period care products are bottom-of-the-barrel, plastic-based options, and the expectation is that you should just be happy with what you get.

There is a level of dignity that comes from being able to choose what works best for your body on your menstrual cycle. Sustainable period care should not be a luxury.

Today, I'm in a much more privileged position, yet even as the founder of a period care brand, I'm still caught off guard. Just last year, my daughter started her first period on our way back from Nova Scotia. On our last leg, I went from bathroom to bathroom at night in the airport, trying to find an option since I had packed all of my products in my checked luggage. The dispensers I found were broken or empty, or I didn't have the right change, and no stores were open. It was in about the fifth bathroom that I found a pad on the counter that, thankfully, someone had left behind, so I could take it back to my daughter.

Even with all my privilege, I am also caught off guard. Conventional distribution methods like paid dispensers don't necessarily mean accessible period care. This is why we have recently designed, in partnership with two Canadian universities, an award-winning smart “freevend” commercial dispenser that dispenses bamboo, biodegradable and plastic-free pads and 100% organic cotton tampons with compostable wrappers. Compared to a conventional plastic-based pad that takes over 300 years to break down, plastic-free pads break down, on average, in 12 months, in the right conditions.

This model works to make sustainable pads and tampons accessible in public places, just like toilet paper.

As a company, we're committed to driving innovation forward in this industry with our non-profit partners and industry colleagues who are here today. Our innovations support new labour code changes and go further to support any private organization choosing to make its workplace more equitable by providing free products to its workers, all contributing to what we call an ecosystem of accessibility.

Just like we wouldn't question having toilet paper in places of work, regardless of whether they are in-office or hybrid, the same consideration is needed for 26% of the population when it comes to menstrual products. joni is part of the Sustainable Menstrual Equity Coalition—SMEC—which is a coalition of Canadian women-led SMEs addressing period poverty, which is already providing innovative, sustainable solutions to Canadians, as well as internationally.

We believe it's important to make reusable and sustainable plastic-free disposable options accessible, and we ask each of you to call for a resolution to include sustainable options from women-led Canadian SMEs as part of the procurement process for the government menstrual equity program.

Thank you.

11:20 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you very much.

Finally, for our last speaker, from the Women's Global Health Innovations, we have Leisa Hirtz, chief executive officer.

Leisa, you have the floor for five minutes.

11:20 a.m.

Leisa Hirtz Chief Executive Officer, Women's Global Health Innovations

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Hello. I'm Leisa Hirtz, founder and CEO of Women's Global Health Innovations, a Canadian social enterprise researching, developing, manufacturing and currently distributing our innovative Bfree Cup globally.

As a Canadian social entrepreneur and innovator, I am developing disruptive period products intended to address the complex challenges menstruators face in managing their periods, while taking into consideration social, environmental and economic sustainability. Our mission at Women’s Global Health Innovations is to improve the menstrual health outcomes—and thus lives—of the world’s most marginalized adolescent girls and young women.

As a member of the UN Global Compact, we play a vital role as one of the many private sector participants actively working towards the achievement of the sustainable development goals. According to UNICEF, 1.8 billion people across the world menstruate monthly, and according to the World Bank, 500 million lack access to menstrual products and adequate sanitation facilities to manage their periods safely and with dignity.

The idea of the Bfree Cup was born after I learned first-hand how adolescent girls and young women living in Kenya’s and Uganda’s urban slums and refugee settlements faced some of the harshest conditions and challenges to managing their periods.

Lack of access to clean water, affordable menstrual products and private female-friendly sanitation facilities led to high-risk behaviours including transactional sex to buy pads or the unhealthy reliance on makeshift products like old socks, mattress stuffing, goat skin, dried cow dung and reportedly the washing and reusing of products intended for single use. Additionally, girls reported rolling up pads and inserting them vaginally as many do not have underwear to hold their menstrual pads in place.

Conversely, the reusability—thus improved accessibility—of menstrual cups promised a healthier solution, but unfortunately the need for them to be boiled was seen as a deterrent to adoption.

I soon learned that this was a reality not only in Kenya and Uganda. Similar stories exist right here in Canada.

The Bfree Cup is proudly a Canadian innovation developed in partnership with researchers at the faculty of engineering at the University of Toronto. The Bfree Cup is the first and only physically antibacterial menstrual cup available on the market today. Its surface prevents a biofilm—thus bacteria—from forming, meaning that unlike all other menstrual cups, the Bfree Cup does not need boiling after each menstrual period.

Cleaning the Bfree Cup is easy. It can be lightly rinsed or simply wiped clean. The Bfree cup was described by a senior menstrual product developer with Johnson & Johnson as the first real innovation in menstrual products since Kotex put adhesive on the back of a menstrual pad.

With respect to environmental sustainability, one Bfree Cup can be used for upwards of 10 years, replacing 3,000 to 5,000 plastic-based disposable products, many of which take upwards of 500 to 800 years to decompose in a landfill. To date, the Bfree Cup has diverted 1.2 million disposable products from landfill, saved over 185,000 litres of water and reached over 18,000 marginalized adolescent girls and young women in Africa and South America, as well as indigenous women in the United States.

We have implemented projects in Kenya and Uganda and supported many other projects and programs in sub-Saharan Africa and South America, relying on a user-centred design approach.

A pilot project implemented in two secondary schools in northern Uganda, supported by a grant from the United Nations Population Fund, helped us reach 350 schoolgirls with education and the Bfree Cup. At end line, a 91% successful product uptake amongst the participants was documented. We remain committed to continuing research and development while expanding our manufacturing capacity here in Canada. Currently, research is under way in partnership with McMaster University for the development of two novel menstrual products that will broaden user choice of environmentally sustainable products.

I would also like to add that Bfree is a proud member of the Sustainable Menstrual Equity Coalition of Canada, from whom this committee has already heard.

We are collectively and collaboratively combining our decades of Canadian and international experience to address period poverty and to advocate for policy changes in Canada to raise awareness of the challenges that so many Canadians face managing their periods with dignity, and to establish initiatives to provide high-quality, safe, dioxin-free, sustainable choice in menstrual products for those in need, domestically and internationally.

Let us work together to deploy a team Canada approach to ensure that menstrual equity is achieved here in Canada and on a global level, through leveraging the knowledge and experience of our Canadian women entrepreneurs and innovators to establish a comprehensive social, environmental and economically sustainable national standard.

Thank you for the invitation and opportunity to speak with you today.

11:25 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

Thanks to all of you. Everybody stayed within that five minutes. You guys are awesome.

I'm going to start our first rounds of six minutes each.

We'll start off with Dominique Vien from the CPC.

Dominique, you have the floor for six minutes.

11:30 a.m.


Dominique Vien Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Good morning everyone. I wish you a good start to the week.

To the witnesses, thank you for making yourselves available to be with us today.

Ms. Hill, I'm going to address you in particular, because you're currently conducting a study on behalf of the government of British Columbia. It's very interesting. First of all, I'd like to hear your views on this Menstrual Equity Fund set up by the Government of Canada. How do you think this pilot project will shed light on the issue of menstrual equity?

11:30 a.m.

Chair, Government of British Columbia, Period Poverty Task Force

Nicola Hill

Thank you for the question.

To preface, I'm not directly involved with the menstrual equity fund in my work in the province of B.C. I can speak to the importance of the type of work such a fund and such grassroots activities do in informing our work.

One of the important things about the way the Government of B.C. structured our period poverty task force work is that it also accompanies a series of grants for grassroots organizations. We're taking a look at how we can solve the problem within communities. As I said in my statement, that's very important. The reason there's a task force in B.C. is that it's a systemic issue, and there's no one approach that's going to work for everybody.

The granting system we've set up in B.C., in which we will have full research and report, is the second. The first system informed the United Way B.C.'s Period Promise research project, which a number of witnesses have referred to in their testimony over the past week. That study gave us the direct knowledge from people with lived experience, which is critical. In terms of looking at the menstrual equity fund and the potential to frame that, it does look a lot like the way we did the work in B.C., where we talked to people in communities who have the needs and are able to tell us what works, what doesn't and where we need to be expanding. I think that's critical.

I sit here as somebody who has not personally experienced period poverty, though I have been an activist on this issue for many years. Those voices from community are very important. They will be important in the menstrual equity fund as well.

11:30 a.m.


Dominique Vien Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

Ms. Hill, I understand that you're conducting the study for the government of British Columbia and that it's not pan-Canadian in scope. However, what you are studying should give us an indication of what we might see across Canada.

Are you moving towards universal accessibility of menstrual products for women in your province? I understand the report isn't finished, but do you think you're moving towards that? Is that possibly one of the recommendations you're going to make?

11:30 a.m.

Chair, Government of British Columbia, Period Poverty Task Force

Nicola Hill

Thank you for the question.

I think it is very important that we are not only working towards what will most benefit British Columbians. We are also very hopeful that our report will be of benefit to Canadians as a whole. We are currently the only remaining period poverty task force globally, so we are also working with global partners. We are hopeful that our recommendations help inform some of this group, which is very present and active across the world because of our status in that role. We are looking very carefully at each recommendation.

We believe we are looking to start with the initial problem, but it is very important to look at this through different layers. When we look at period poverty, we are looking at addressing recommendations that impact people who are vulnerable in our communities, particularly indigenous people. When we look at menstrual equity, yes, we would be looking towards recommendations that, in the long term, would benefit all people.

11:30 a.m.


Dominique Vien Conservative Bellechasse—Les Etchemins—Lévis, QC

In an ideal world, all women would have free access to menstrual products, but that would cost a lot of money. So if we had to give priority to certain people, it would have to be the poorest or people living in remote areas, for example. Is that what you're saying? Who should be given priority?

11:35 a.m.

Chair, Government of British Columbia, Period Poverty Task Force

Nicola Hill

With period poverty, we should be prioritizing some of the people that I noted in my statement. We're talking about people who are vulnerable. We have noted a disproportionate impact on indigenous people, for example, as well as people with disabilities and young people in post-secondary.

However, I do think it's important to note that another aspect of this work—and I think we've heard it from witnesses—is ensuring that menstrual products are available similarly to toilet paper and soap in washrooms. I think that is where progress is being made to normalize the provision of menstrual products within public spaces and physical spaces.

What's important to our work is noting that public and physical spaces do not always ensure that menstrual products are available to people who are vulnerable because they may not be accessing a workplace or a school. We have seen through the pandemic where those buildings were shut down, even if they had menstrual products.

Then, as I noted, we're also looking at how we address urgent needs such as floods and fires, where people may be evacuated and need to immediately have access to such a basic product.

11:35 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thanks so much, Nikki. I was going to cut you off, but you have so much important information to give, especially at this difficult time.

I'm now going to pass it over to Jenna Sudds.

Jenna, you have the floor for six minutes.

11:35 a.m.


Jenna Sudds Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Thank you very much, Chair.

Thank you to all of the witnesses in the room and online for sharing your expertise and for the work that you're doing in this space.

I have so many questions. I'm going to start online with Ms. Johnston.

You had shared a little bit about the period-positive workplace campaign and the PPW-certified part of it that's upcoming. You also put into context that, through Minister O'Regan and the changes to the labour code effective in December of this year, menstrual products will be available within federally regulated workplaces.

I'm curious about your thoughts around synergies there and whether there's an opportunity to collaborate or to leverage the PPW certification to expand this in a bigger way.

11:35 a.m.

Advocacy Coordinator, Days for Girls Canada Society

Jillian Johnston

Thank you.

I think that's a wonderful question. I, of course, think it would be wonderful to link the two things. The steps taken with federally regulated workplaces are very similar, if not identical, to the ones we would like to take with our private sector businesses. I think that the leadership shown by our government is something that we would love to build on. We would love their support.

I think that collaboration is the key. I think that with collaboration within the government, collaboration between all of the menstrual health organizations across Canada that are working together and then collaboration between the government and those organizations, we can accomplish this by working together.

I think collaboration is one of the founding principles for Share the Platform, the organization that we have formed with Changing the Flow. With the plans that we've been given from the period-positive workplace coalition, which is an international coalition.... By the way, Days for Girls International is one of the five founding organizations of this coalition, so we have direct access to all of the information that they are using. Our job is to Canadianize it.

One thing, for instance, is that we would really like to specify that the products need to be free in the workplaces. We just feel that there are so many link-ups with getting information to the business owners, for instance, about all of the products that you've heard mentioned today, like the products that are sustainable, biodegradable, long-lasting, safe and made locally by businesses run by women in Canada. I think it's a wonderful opportunity to share all of that information with the businesses to let them know what is available for them to purchase, so that they can offer a full selection of products to their workers.

11:40 a.m.


Jenna Sudds Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Amazing. I hate to cut you short, but I have so many questions. Thank you for that.

I'm now going to move in the room to Ms. Biggs.

Your example of your situation with your daughter and being in an airport brings to mind to me, obviously, the importance of the access points as we move forward with the menstrual equity fund.

Also, I would love for you to share your experience and your expertise around the importance of choice for those who are seeking out products when they are in need.

11:40 a.m.

Co-Chief Executive Officer, joni

Linda Biggs

It's absolutely a great question. It's something that my industry colleagues here next to me can also attest to. We hear so many stories, especially when it comes to donated products, of communities having to use whatever is given. If there were pads one time, they will have to use pads. If it's tampons, they will have to use tampons. As we know, our bodies are unique. We have individual situations that will determine what we can use for our bodies. This idea of reasonable choice is what other period equity programs internationally have used as well. That language is important, so that someone who menstruates can choose what works best for their body. There's a level of dignity in that. That's a really important piece when it comes to period equity.

While donated products are great, I think there has to be an emphasis on how we empower people who menstruate to be able to choose what works best for them.

11:40 a.m.


Jenna Sudds Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Incredible. Thank you for that. I think it's an important point.

Maybe I'll open the floor on the earlier comment I made around the access points. As we're moving forward with the menstrual equity fund, and obviously we've done a ton of consultation over the last year, I would love your insights or your thoughts around where people are reaching the products. Where should those products be accessible?

I'm thinking more around the harder-to-reach people, if I may.

Who would like to take that?

Go ahead, Suzanne.

11:40 a.m.

Chief Executive Officer, Aisle International

Suzanne Siemens

Thank you for the question.

We have worked with United Way in B.C. as well as the folks in Ontario, with the Period Purse as well. They are going to the communities that need them the most. They are diverse in their access points, including food banks and community centres. They receive the need. They are addressing what products they are needing to access. There are many different ways in which they want them—some want reusables; some want disposables. Listening to the community, which is what Nikki Hill suggested, is really how best to address it.

11:40 a.m.


The Chair Conservative Karen Vecchio

Thank you so much.

We're now going to pass it over to Andréanne Larouche.

Andréanne, you have six minutes.