In October of 2019, Kate Elliott and Kevin Hiebert presented to Cambridge City Council, requesting free period products in city-run facilities. Cambridge City Council voted against this motion.
At the time, Elliott and Hiebert, founding members of a local chapter of Period Purse, had been actively involved in the volunteer-run non-profit organization that strives to achieve menstrual equity by providing people with access to free menstrual products.
Their experience with the City of Cambridge sparked the idea for founding Changing the Flow — a Waterloo Region social enterprise dedicated to menstrual equity, with a focus on the systemic issues, policy changes, and education.
“We realized that there was such misunderstanding around menstrual equity, and we were somewhat naive. We thought we could go in and give a short presentation, on why this was important on many levels and that would be understood. People have their own ideas on periods, whether they menstruate or not,” Elliott, co-founder and director of business development, of Changing the Flow, said.
One such idea is why period products should be free in the first place. “From our mindset” clarified Elliott, “period products and toilet paper, there’s no difference. Arguably, you cannot control period blood, so they need to be supplied just the same as hand soap and toilet paper and paper towels to dry your hands.”
Changing the Flow works to achieve menstrual equity through awareness, education and implementation. Elliott describes menstrual equity as “having equal access to period products, ways to manage menstruation, as well as education around reproductive health … the ability to manage your period, like access to running water is needed, as is the education to be able to properly manage your period.”
In early 2020 when Changing the Flow was starting, their initial plans were about getting free period products into public spaces, and it arguably still is, but Changing the Flow has since been forced to shift their approach.
“How can you try and advocate for period products in a public washroom when there are no public washrooms open?… We shifted to outreach because we realized something needed to be done and people needed the period products straight away and it did not feel right to just sit and wait for public washrooms to open back up,” Elliott said.
Prior to COVID-19, Changing the Flow had been actively working with the Waterloo Region District School Board, to allow access to free period products in their schools. With schools closed until recently, public access to the free period products was not possible which posed a big concern for the organization.
“There were people menstruating, that did not necessarily have products, and especially being out of school. A large concern for me was whether they were actually getting the education, and if they are in a household that was comfortable talking about menstruation,” Elliott said.
For Elliot, a partnership with Nutrition for Learning, an organization that provides healthy breakfasts to children in many of our schools, helped them pivot toward more outreach and reach the population who was receiving support through school.
Nutrition for Learning are trusted in the community with access to the vulnerable population, and COVID-19 safe protocols, which allowed Changing the Flow to distribute their Period Packs to students who have had trouble accessing period products during the pandemic.
The period packs being distributed with Nutrition for Learning include five pads, five tampons, and an information card on how to safely use the products.
Changing the Flow also recently started a collaboration with The Community Company, founded by Justin Chan. Together they launched the Period Project, which sells t-shirts with used period products on them to normalize periods, help end stigmatization and bring awareness to menstruation. The proceeds from the sale of these Period t-shirts go toward purchasing the Period Packs.
“[Menstruation] is treated as though it is gross and disgusting, but it is normal, and it’s happening, and it comes along with so many side effects that people are going through that you should be able to talk about,” Elliott said.
“I think what we can take from COVID-19 is the panic that people went through at the beginning when they thought they could not get toilet paper … I think that’s quite an easy way to shift it to period products and try and imagine what that would be like, and the fact that this is actually the reality for a lot of people, and has been for a long time now and still is. And so if that doesn’t spark something then I don’t know what will.”
If you or your organization are looking to offer free period products in your washrooms, Changing the Flow is always looking for companies and initiatives to partner with. To get involved, reach out to Changing the Flow. You can also share your period story with them to help bring awareness to menstruation.