In 2019/2020 students at the University of Guelph voted to get menstrual products subsidized and were eager to have an eco-friendly menstrual care product on campus. The university’s Central Student Association (CSA) purchased 500 DivaCups to donate to students through their Menstrual Hygiene Initiative.
Sara Kuwatly, CSA VP of Student Experience, wanted to share some background into how they were able to launch this exciting and successful free period product initiative at the University of Guelph.
What inspired the Menstrual Hygiene Initiative?
The initiative started with a previous executive at the Central Student Association. They wanted to see better access to menstrual products on campus. There were no lecture halls, campus buildings, or services that offered free menstrual products to this degree.
Although condoms are provided free of charge to students in many locations around campus, tampons and pads are offered in limited locations. Some campus groups and organizations on campus offered menstrual products for free or at a reduced rate. However, they utilized a large part of their budget to purchase these products. We wanted to alleviate the costs from these smaller groups and allow for a more permanent and ongoing free structure to provide these products to everyone on campus.
How did the Menstrual Hygiene Initiative start?
The Menstrual Hygiene Initiative was introduced by referendum as a small fee that undergraduate students would be pay each semester. The fee would cover the costs of menstrual products and the cost of the dispensaries. Each semester, the fee is collected and the Central Student Association buys products such as tampons and pads in bulk. These tampons and pads are distributed and refilled every week across campus. This icludes the athletic centre, library, lecture halls and main university buildings. The products are free for individuals who need to use the products.
Menstrual hygiene products in Canada are still seen as luxury goods. Items that can be used by all or no genders, such as toilet paper, are categorized as necessary goods and can be found and supplied for free.
The Canadian government has taken steps to address the issue by eliminating taxation of menstrual hygiene products. This step does not eliminate financial burden towards those who experience menstruation.
Our student association is committed to providing a more equitable campus environment. With this initiative, we try to provide more accessible and equitable means of accessing menstrual products. If we ever encounter a surplus of fees collected, we use the fees to purchase alternative menstrual care products.
Recently, we used a surplus of fees collected to purchase DivaCups in bulk and offer them to students free of cost. We worked with Diva International, maker of the DivaCup, to ensure that proper education surrounding the menstrual product is communicated.
How has the Menstrual Hygiene Initiative been going so far?
The Menstrual Hygiene Initiative has been met with positivity since it’s been introduced. When students voted for the referendum, there was overwhelming support for the semesterly fee.
We have expanded dispensaries to many more locations on campus. The dispensaries were initially located in main university buildings. We have since expanded to many more locations, such as the library and large lecture halls. The dispensaries are in many gender-neutral washrooms and accessible locations.
There is always overwhelming support for this initiative, as we always receive positive feedback. The new DivaCup offerings have received positive support as well, with many students lining up to sign up for a free DivaCup.
What are some challenges the CSA has had to navigate?
One challenge that we initially encountered was installing dispensaries in various locations. Some on-campus locations were reluctant to install the machines, as they did not want the additional labour of stocking the machines.
We developed a system to have some student positions at our Student Association restock the products on a weekly basis. This has come with another challenge, as restocking all the dispensaries across campus is very labour intensive. Although the fee has supported the purchase of the menstrual products themselves, the fee did not anticipate a large labour and time cost to the service. Our staff work increased hours to ensure all the dispensaries are stocked.
What advice do you have for other schools who might be interested in starting their own initiative to combat period poverty on campus?
Initiate a referendum. Some things that can be included in the referendum question include:
- Why this campaign is so important: menstrual hygiene products in Canada are still considered “Luxury Goods”, while items that can be used by all or no genders, such as toilet paper, are categorized as Necessary Goods and as such can be found supplied for free
- Eliminating taxation on menstrual products does not eliminate the financial burden that folks who menstruate experience
- Sexual health products such as condoms are provided for free on many campuses, while necessary personal health products are not
Thank you Sara!
If youn would like to partner with Diva to help students at your school gain access to sustainable menstrual care and alleviate period poverty on campus, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.