Imagine. You’re a sixteen-year old girl sitting in your Advanced Functions class, learning about polynomial and absolute value inequalities, when Mother Nature calls. So, naturally, you raise your hand and ask to go to the washroom. Your teacher impetuously approves and you soon find yourself in an empty washroom stall, relieving yourself. But, once you look down, you see red. You got your period. Now, what do you do?
- You stuff your underwear with one-ply toilet paper, and saunter back to class. Once safely seated, you look around for a tampon in your backpack and then raise your hand and ask your teacher for permission to go to the washroom again. Usually, this request is followed by an awkward set of questioning (as you clearly JUST came back from the washroom) and then a begrudging ‘yes’ from your teacher. So, you have to leave class again and miss out on more of your education.
- You stand up from the washroom stall, return to class and ask a friend for a tampon. And go through the same ~awkward~ conversation with your teacher and leave class, again.
- With a warm blood stain in your underwear, you leave the washroom and roam the halls looking for 25 cents (or a quarter) to spend at the most likely empty tampon dispenser².
Unfortunately, this is the reality for many menstruating students across North America. Over 87% of women will experience being in public when they start their period, without having the necessary menstrual care products. Clearly, this was an issue that affected students in my school board, Thames Valley District School Board, and as the student trustee of 77,000 students across 160 schools, I decided that I needed to take action.
Last June I implemented a pilot project that provides free period products in all girls and non-binary (all gender) washrooms at my high school, London Central Secondary School. This idea was thankfully supported across the TVDSB and learning coordinators of Equity and Learning Support Services implemented in all 28 high schools across our school board.
But, with this current model, school administrators and staff were responsible for purchasing AND replenishing menstrual products in each of the washrooms (two-three times a week). Additionally, these products would only be available in the non-binary (all gender) washrooms, and from student input I learned that not all female identifying students are comfortable using a washroom that a male identifying student has used, due to personal/ religious reasons.
My goal as student trustee was to have free menstrual products be available in all girls and all-gender washrooms in every high school across the school board. I wanted the emphasis to be on the point of implementing the distribution of menstrual products within TVDSB to be treated just like toilet paper. This means that menstrual products would be purchased in bulk by Facility Services and Capital Planning, and then distributed to schools where custodial staff would facilitate the replenishing of baskets within girls and non-binary washrooms. This spring, as TVDSB student trustee, I will be bringing forward a trustee-led initiative to have the purchasing of menstrual products implemented within our operational budget. This means that TVDSB students will have access to free menstrual products for many generations to come!
Thankfully, the importance of having free menstrual products in schools was not unnoticed by educational partners across North America. Over the past year, I was invited to speak at a PEL
Speaker Series at the Yale Law School, Accomplished Student Trustee Speech at the Fall Symposium- Ontario Student Trustees Association, and the Public Education Symposium at the Ontario Public School Boards Association.
Last spring I had the pleasure of being recognized by the Ascena Retail Group as a recipient of the HerLead Fellowship. During the alumni networking dinner, I was able to meet Nadya Okamoto, Founder and Executive Director of the non-profit organization PERIOD! This January, I was able to receive a full scholarship to attend PERIOD Con in NYC. Additionally, I had the great honour of being sponsored by the DivaCup to travel and attend PERIOD Con. PERIOD Con was an exceptional experience and I am so thankful to have met such influential leaders in the menstrual movement including Carinne Chambers-Saini, the CEO and Co-Founder of Diva International.
I’d like to thank the amazing Diva team (special shoutout to the fabulous Alexis, DivaCares Manager!) for making this experience possible and I’d love to see what we can accomplish in the future, together!
About Sarah Chun: A period equity warrior, and currently a student trustee. Her main focus is finding a way to work with legislatures to provide free menstrual care products for all students across Ontario, Canada.