Emily Gleeson

Menstruating While Poor

Ever wonder what it’s like to menstruate without being able to afford tampons? Yeah, me neither. Add “feminine hygiene products” (but could we please change the name to something a little less debased?) to the long list of things I am privileged enough to take for granted.

Let’s save the deconstruction of why it is exactly that women have to shell out however many dollars a year to support the rhythms of their reproductive cycle (ahem, patriarchy), and the fact that it wasn’t until 2015 that the feds removed GST from tampons and pads, releasing our collective uteruses from an estimated $36 million in tax (ditto) for another time, though it factors into the issue at large: for the many menstruating folks who cannot afford tampons and pads, periods are an especially vicious cycle, confining them to conditions of poverty.

An individual’s inability to purchase their own menstrual products might not seem like that big of a deal, but how would you get through a week of bleeding from your vagina using toilet or newspapers stuffed between your legs? If you only had one or two pairs of underwear and limited, if any, access to laundry? How would you go to school or hold a job? Access community resources and essential services? Be comfortable? It’s no understatement to say that tampons (or Diva Cups or your product of choice) are essential for menstruating folks to be able to live their lives.

Tampon Tuesday is a new quarterly event in Kitchener-Waterloo serving to fundraise tampons and pads for social service providers in the Region. To date they’ve provided over 200 menstrual products to the YWCA, Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region and the Foodbank of Waterloo Region. Their next event takes place on February 28 at Jack Astor’s and this time they want to fill a cube van with donations.

Local organizer Kelly Dick got involved when she worked as a Labour Service Representative for the United Way, hosting events in Waterloo and Kitchener in August and November respectively. Along with her United Way colleagues in London and Hamilton, Dick developed a national toolkit so that other communities across the country could hold their own events for what she sees as a pressing cause.

She explains, “it’s to give back to the community and — this is such a cliché — to raise awareness of this topic that people don’t think of.”

“When you have a woman in crisis, generally people think of two things. She needs shelter and she needs food. They don’t think about the health needs of women and young girls.”

In the case of reproductive health and providing support to menstruating bodies, it’s not something we think about because it’s not something we talk about. It’s not something we are generally comfortable talking about.

“We have spent a lot of time talking about this as a team. Part of it is that we needed to make sure that everyone is comfortable saying tampons. Like, can you say that word?” Violet Umanetz, Manager of Outreach at Sanguen Health Centre, asks me.

“We don’t ever want someone to come up to us and be unable to ask for what they need and we want to be able to [verbally] offer it.”

The intimate link between periods, being able to talk about them, and an individual’s overall health is driven home by Umanetz’s experience with the Sanguen Outreach Van, which makes weekly trips in the community to give out harm reduction kits, snacks, socks and “period packs.”

“The conversation starts with tampons and pads … but turns to deeper conversations … about people’s physical health, when they last saw a doctor, when they last had a pap smear, all of those pieces really start to come out once people know you are comfortable talking about those kinds of things,” she says.

“This is not just a ‘woman’s’ problem,” Dick tells me. The repercussions of a lack of access to tampons are far reaching across our health and community resources.

“Is [Tampon Tuesday] a Band-Aid solution? Yeah, and we need to get to the root of it. So, lobbying Parliament Hill? Absolutely!”

Really want to show some lady love this Valentine’s Day? Donate a couple boxes of pads and tampons to your favourite social service provider, or hit up the next Tampon Tuesday on February 28 (www.tampontuesday.com).