Centennial College is addressing the lack of menstrual products in washrooms — it’s time for SFU to step up as well

Absence of sanitary products imposes on the health and well-being of menstruating students

Photo by Gudrun Wai Gunnarsson/The Peak

By: Encina Roh, Peak Associate

Mother Nature is wonderful. Except when she shows up on the day you have a four-hour long lecture, with only a 10-minute break to run to the bathroom and pray that the line isn’t too long.

If this topic makes you uncomfortable, queasy, or disgusted, then I do apologize for the discomfort my discomfort causes you. It’s not, however, the least bit surprising to anyone who has experienced or continues to experience menstruation.

There is an undeniable stigma attached to menstruation. Despite this being a natural process, many of us who bleed feel the need to be as secretive about our “time of the month” as possible. We hide our pads in makeup bags, or shove them up into our sleeves in hopes that no one will notice as we sneak out of the classroom. We don’t tell anyone who doesn’t also experience menstruation that we are on our periods for fear that anything we feel or say might be invalidated because we’re just “PMS-ing.”

The stigma is just the cherry on top of the awful cake of hormones and physical discomfort we already have to suffer through. On top of the aches, emotional distress, and the social aversion to the topic in general, there is a conspicuous lack of available feminine hygiene products stocked in public washrooms. If SFU truly cares about the well-being of its students, offering menstrual products in bathrooms is an absolute necessity. It is just as important as other campus health and social services meant to alleviate student struggles and facilitate a better, healthier environment for learning.

To be clear, the Women’s Centre and the Health and Counselling Services Centre do provide free products, but getting there is a bit of a nightmare. Between the traffic jam of students and the maze of construction the Convocation Mall area has become, it’s unfeasible to expect anyone to run there in an emergency between classes or during a break. And although the Women’s Centre does its best to keep sanitary products available in its 24/7 lounge, if they happen to run out outside of office hours, there’s little they can do.

A journey taken to the Maggie Benston Centre, the Rotunda, or to Nesters at Cornerstone is a time sink that students in a bind can’t afford during class. And God forbid nature should rear her red head suddenly during an exam.

SFU wouldn’t even be the first campus to implement sanitary products in washrooms. In Toronto, Centennial College’s “Free The Tampon” project has allowed students access to free menstrual products across the college’s campuses. Shannon Brooks, Centennial’s associate vice-president of corporate services, lauds prioritizing student experience ahead of the relatively small costs accrued by the service in an interview with CBC. Centennial recognizes that even with the federal tax on menstrual hygiene products lifted, the costs can still rack up on a student’s budget. An average cost of about $66 a year might not seem like a lot, but on a tight student budget, it can add up. Comparatively, the $12,000 that Centennial estimates its project costs annually is a much lighter load for a larger institution to bear.

Menstruators shouldn’t have to sacrifice our dignity risking the ridicule of a leak. Nor should we have to sacrifice the education we put money into in order to address a process that already feels like a punishment. And for the last time, for the ones in the back: we don’t choose or control this!

The fact that menstrual cycles are sometimes unpredictable adds to the difficulty of always having a spare pad or tampon in our bags. Even when we are prepared, the stigma around periods turns a quick shuffle to the washroom with a pad in hand into a walk of shame. Campus facilities should be providing these products in washrooms in the event an emergency situation occurs. Sanitary products should be a given on the same level as toilet paper. Again, we don’t control this, and we don’t want to risk bleeding through our clothes or onto communal seats either.

Access to menstrual hygiene products should be a right. They should be made available in every washroom on campus open to menstruators. If SFU feels the need to charge a fee for such products, it should realistically fit into a student budget.

That said, the goal of providing these products shouldn’t be to turn a sadistic profit, but rather to enable students to go about their day with fewer worries. As one of the most prominent institutions of higher learning in British Columbia, SFU needs to take care of the student community that feeds their reputation. Offering access to menstrual hygiene products is a near-effortless way of demonstration care for the health and well-being of students, and respect for their learning experience at SFU.