UofG Referendum Question: Go With the Flow - Free Menstrual Products on Campus

Emily Vance is a student at the University of Guelph who recently proposed a referendum question to be voted on in the 2017 CSA General Elections. If this referendum question were to be approved, there would be a fee of 0.90 from each full time student that would go specifically to having readily available menstrual products across campus. There has been a lot of discussion (which is amazing!) and a few questions about the goals of the referendum and what the results would be. So here is a bit of an explanation to ensure everyone is fully informed when they vote on March 6th – 8th through their Gryphmail.

What made you decide to organize this referendum question?

Last Fall, I was attending the Canadian Conference for Student Leadership (CCSL) in Niagara, Ontario, and there were some students there from McGill University who were talking about a referendum their student union recently passed. This referendum resulted in dispensing machines being installed in gendered and universal washrooms that provided free menstrual products. I thought that this was an amazing idea, as did many of those attending the conference. I had been looking for a project to bring to the Central Student Association and this one seemed perfect, so I decided to do some research to determine if this was something I could implement at the University of Guelph campus. As a result, a plan was formed and I began drafting my own question. This question was brought to the Board of Directors and received unanimous support, and now here we are!

What are some of the goals driving this question forward, and what can be expected if this question is approved in the 2017 CSA General Election?

Goal #1: To provide an emergency supply of menstrual products across campus for anyone who may need it

                  If this question were to be approved, there would be tampons and pads more readily available for those in need of an “emergency” supply of menstrual products. There are many potential reasons for someone not to have the products they need during menstruation. Maybe they weren’t supposed to get their period that week, or their period is not consistent, or maybe they brought some products but not enough, or maybe they had other student related stressed on their mind and they just outright forgot. The list goes on! So, if there were to be an emergency supply more readily available to menstruating folks, this could help alleviate some stress in our already busy and stressful student lives.

This would come in the form of the removal of the existing dispensing machines (that are often found to be broken, empty, or selling products for up to four times their market cost), and then the installation of new machines that can dispense products for free. These dispensing machines would be monitored regularly to ensure they are working effectively, and to track how frequently they are being used to ensure they are being regularly stocked. These machines would be installed in a rolling out process, starting with buildings accessed by the majority of students (e.g., the University Centre), and eventually, buildings in all areas of campus. I would also collaborate with other Primary Student Organizations and Special Status Groups to ensure that their offices are stocked with products for students in their membership.

Goal #2: To initiate some valuable and much needed conversations around gender equity, discrimination, and the stigma around menstruation

If this question were to be approved, the dispensing machines would be installed in both gendered washrooms (male and female) as well as universals washrooms. Why? Well women are not the only ones who menstruate. By only talking about women in conversations about menstruation, we are leaving out those who may not identify as women who still menstruate. Plenty of trans, gender diverse, and gender non-conforming folks menstruate, and often experience more barriers in accessing resources. By having these machines in both gendered and universal washrooms, these conversations can be started to help shed light on common experiences. If you want to know more about the experience of trans folks who menstruate, I encourage you to get informed. You can start by reading this article “This Is What It’s Like To Get A Period When You Aren’t A Woman”: https://www.buzzfeed.com/susiearmitage/heres-what-its-like-to-have-your-period-when-youre-trans

I believe this question also would start some much needed conversations about gender equity by having all full time students contributing with the 0.90 fee, as opposed to only those who menstruate. First of all, the responsibility of providing these necessary products should not only land on the marginalized groups that would benefit from them. It needs to be a campus wide effort to ensure that these groups are receiving the necessary resources so that they are able to go about their day. Sometimes it takes a contribution from everyone to ensure that those most marginalized are receiving life’s most basic and necessary things that others may receive automatically due to the privileges they were born into.

Lastly, there is a large amount of stigma around menstruation in general. Some of it may stem from lack of information, or the fact that society has taught us that the vagina is this weird taboo place that shouldn’t be talked about, except for in a sexual context. So if passed, this referendum question also has the power to normalize conversations around menstruation, and eliminate some of the stigma around it.

Goal #3: To allow menstrual products to be as easily accessible on campus as condoms and toilet paper

                  Sexual health is something very important and prioritized on our campus, as it should be. In this goal, this is in no way devaluing one service in order to serve my own arguments. Instead, it is to put some things into perspective. Any student is able to access condoms and other sexual health related products in many areas around campus, but the same cannot be said for menstrual products. There are some resources on campus that provide menstrual products for free or at a reduced rate which is awesome! But these products are not nearly as readily available as sexual health products like condoms. When people decide that they would like to engage in sexual activity, protection is available to them to ensure they are being safe. The prime word in this sentence is decide. They are making a conscious choice that they would like to do something, and there are products available for them to do so. Menstruating is not something that one chooses to do, and yet those products are not as readily available. When one has to go to the bathroom there is toilet paper and all of the “necessary goods” required to maintain personal hygiene. But menstrual products are labelled as “luxury goods” (which is so ironic it hurts me), so they are not available for free in washrooms. So if this referendum question were to pass, I would want to ensure that menstrual products are readily available, just like other products, such as toilet paper, which can be used by all or no genders, or products based on a decision to do something, such as condoms.

Goal #4: To alleviate some stress in many students’ already stressful lives

                  Being a student has many stresses attached to it. Between academics, extra-curricular activities, finances, and trying to maintain a social life, there are many things that students stress about. If this referendum were to be passed, I would hope that it would eliminate at least one stress for many students on campus.

I will give you a real life scenario to put things into perspective. Imagine you are a menstruating person, and you are studying on campus for a midterm you have later that day. You realize that you are supposed to get your period that day, but didn’t bring any menstrual products. You are now a ticking time bomb of bloody embarrassment. You don’t have time to go home and get anything before your midterm, and none of your friends have products on them either. So, you’re forced to “improvise” in the form of making your own products out of toilet paper. This whole process has now taken up valuable time that you could have been using studying. I would bet that this experience would sound familiar to a fair amount of menstruating folks. It’s also important to keep in mind, as someone who meets society’s gender norms around menstruation, the amount of stress I experienced is likely very different than trans, gender diverse, and gender non-conforming folks. If there were to be free menstrual products more readily available across campus, stories like this one would have a better ending, resulting in less stress, more time would be able to be spent studying for that midterm, and one less stress in our already stressful lives would be alleviated. (Spoiler alert: my period didn’t end up coming that day and I stressed for nothing…).

Goal #5: To gather enough evidence to show it is a student need on campus that the university administration should be supporting

                  I understand that adding student fees to provide services that benefit students sets a dangerous precedent and that it shouldn’t always be the responsibility of students to pay for services that should be provided already. These are valid points that I both understand and appreciate. However, I also believe that in order to show the administration that this is a real need on campus, there needs to be data to support it. Campus demographics and social media posts are not enough to fuel that argument. To ensure we use an evidence based approach, I would record data regarding how often the machines need to be restocked, and the opinions of students utilizing this service. This information could then be presented to administration to provide them with proof that this is something that they need to financially support.

                  There are the main goals behind the menstrual product referendum question. If you still have any questions, you can email me at [email protected] or [email protected]. I could honestly talk about this referendum for hours, so don’t hesitate to reach out!

 

University of Guelph students can vote to support this referendum March 6th-8th through your GryphMail.