Grand Erie launches menstrual equity campaign in schools

Grand Erie launches menstrual equity campaign in schools

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No one should have to miss school because they’re menstruating – period.

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That is the firm belief of Ava Burtis, a former student trustee with the Grand Erie District School Board who is now studying at London’s Western University.

Burtis, 17, is behind the board’s launch this week of a menstrual equity campaign that will stock washrooms in all of its elementary and secondary schools with free menstrual products.

“Ontario was moving forward with its own menstrual equity program, but I’m prouder of the fact that my school board was moving this forward before that,” said Burtis. “I’m relieved and excited for the students.”

Developing a menstrual equity campaign is the reason Burtis, who attended McKinnon Park Secondary School in Caledonia, became a student trustee for the 2020-21 school year. She is passionate about menstrual rights, making the issue the topic of speeches she delivered at Legion speaking contests.

“There doesn’t have to be a big catalyst for doing this,” she said. “Just growing up as a person who menstruates and being around people who menstruate, you start to see ways it negatively affects people.”

A survey conducted by Burtis and a “menstrual equity panel” received 254 responses from Grand Erie students. It revealed what Burtis calls “shocking statistics about the menstrual inequities and stigmas student experience every day.”

Eighty-nine per cent of respondents said, in the past, they have needed to ask a friend for a menstrual hygiene product while at school, and 84 per cent reported they have been stuck without a product altogether, leaving the majority of them unable to concentrate in class, bleeding through clothing, and missing time in class to frequently use the washroom.

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“And, most disturbingly”, said Burtis in a report to the school board, “61 per cent of students said they had to go home.”

In the survey, some students talked about awkward and embarrassing times they were forced to ask school staff for menstrual products, which were kept in the school office. Ten per cent of survey respondents said they had been denied a menstrual product from staff after reaching out for one.

“No student has to ask administrative staff for toilet paper before using the washroom and this is no different,” said Burtis.

The cost of menstrual pads and tampons is also an issue for some students.

“Accessing menstrual products is difficult for students who can’t afford them and the potential of having to out one’s gender identity is also a barrier to menstrual equity,” said Lisa Munro, the superintendent of education who is overseeing the roll out of the program at Grand Erie schools. “No student should have their learning or well being disrupted because they can’t access products.”

To launch the initiative, baskets containing menstrual products are being delivered to each school. Installation of new dispensers and retrofitting older ones is underway.

Products initially will be available in gender-neutral, accessible washrooms in all schools and will expand to include female-identified washrooms. Schools will track inventory and order new products as needed throughout the school year, funded partially by the province.

“I’m so proud of the energy and passion of this team of Grand Erie students and their commitment to an important issue to support the well-being of their peers,” said JoAnna Roberto, director of education. “It is a testament to the great things that can happen when youth have a voice and an opportunity to affect change.”