Initiative aims to provide free menstrual products across all Laurier campuses

A program at Wilfrid Laurier University is aiming to make free menstrual products readily available to students on each of the school’s campuses. This initiative is the result of 3.5 years of advocacy work that has been spearheaded by Hayley Newman-Petryshen and the Laurier Students Public Interest Research Group, with support from a collection of campus organizations including the Laurier Sustainability Office, Graduate Students Association, Indigenous Student Services, Centre for Student Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Facilities and Asset Management, and the Students’ Union.

Newman-Petryshen, a Laurier alum and current master’s political science student at McGill University, said she was inspired to pursue the initiative when she realized how many students were being caught on campus without proper access to the period products they needed.

“We decided to take it upon ourselves and advocate for free menstrual care products at Laurier. It’s been a long-haul initiative. We started the Menstrual Equity Committee which is a default campus group,” Newman-Petryshen said.

“We’ve been doing all of these little things to bandage period poverty at Laurier in the meantime. We’ve provided Diva Cups and menstrual care products to people since the pandemic started, as well as [hosting] other educational initiatives.”

At the start of 2022, funding was approved through the student affairs advisory committee in order to push the menstrual equity initiative forward. Menstrual care products will now be available to students in 14 bathrooms on the Laurier Waterloo, Brantford and Kitchener campuses until April 23.

The project, which includes coin-free dispensing units and new menstrual product disposals, is intended to be both equitable and sustainable. The weekly collection from the disposals will go directly to a waste-to-energy facility, diverting waste from landfills. 

In order to protect the safety of trans and non-binary folks using gendered men’s washrooms locations, the product and disposal units are located inside accessible bathroom stalls.

The company managing the machines that provide these products will be documenting usage to keep track of how frequently they’re used.

“The intention [after that point] is that we’ll regroup, evaluate, and hopefully roll it out into all bathrooms as the ultimate goal,” she said.

“We’ll measure success by administering some sort of survey. In August 2019, we administered a survey to gouge period poverty at Laurier.”

According to the “Musing About Menstruation” survey conducted by LSPIRG in 2019, 77 per cent of Laurier students and staff who menstruate have been on campus without period products. What’s more, 38 per cent of Laurier students and staff struggle to afford the menstrual care items they need.

“We’re hoping that even though it’s only in 14 bathrooms right now that [those products] will at least provide a little bit of solace for students who are experiencing period poverty or simply get stuck without a product,” Newman-Petryshen said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated period poverty over the last two years, causing some individuals who cannot access the items they need to resort to potentially dangerous, homemade menstrual care product alternatives that could pose risks to their health.

In order to work towards starting to destigmatize menstruation, Newman-Petryshen noted the first step in breaking down menstrual shame should begin with society collectively talking about periods more.

“Sometimes it just takes someone else creating a [safe] space to talk about [menstruation]. I think there’s so much power in people sharing their experiences, because it sensitizes everyone around the fact that these are shared experiences and these are shared struggles around period poverty and the panic that just comes from not having the products that you need,” Newman-Petryshen said.

Additionally, the approach in these conversations needs to be reframed, with more emphasis placed on educational discourse surrounding menstruation and the people who are most affected by period poverty.

“There’s also intersectionality. If you’re experiencing period poverty, there’s a good chance you’re also experiencing food insecurity. If you’re somebody who’s trans or non-binary, you’re more likely to experience period poverty. All of these things intersect, and I think always centering those [points] into conversations is really important as well,” Newman-Petryshen said.

“I see inclusion as the center of this conversation. When we think about the ways that institutions were built, and who they were designed for, it was often not people for people who menstruate. When I walk into places and I don’t see places where you can get menstrual care products, I see that as a historical institutional signal that this space is not built for me.”

I see inclusion as the center of this conversation.

Hayley Newman-Petryshen

“And whether it’s intentional or not anymore, one can debate. But the goal then is to make sure that all students now coming to Laurier and any other public place, walk in, see these products, and even if they don’t need them, that this space is for them and they have everything they need to stay here, participate, feel safe, comfortable and welcome,” she said.

The end goal of the ongoing project is to ensure the availability of menstrual care products in every washroom on Laurier’s campuses.

“We’re very committed to making sure that doesn’t stop at 14 bathrooms. People need to maintain their basic dignity, hygiene and comfort to participate in daily activities on campus.”

The menstrual product dispenser locations:

Waterloo campus:

• Science Building: washroom across from the dean’s office 

• Library: gender-neutral washroom, main floor 

• Martin Luther University College: gender-neutral washroom, main floor 

• Fred Nichols Campus Centre: gender-neutral washroom, second floor (24 Lounge) 

• Bricker Academic Building: men’s and women’s washrooms, first floor 

• Arts Building: gender-neutral washroom, second floor 

• Peters Building: gender-neutral washroom, first floor, by Frank’s Coffee Haus 

• Lazaridis School: women’s washroom, gender-neutral washroom, first floor 

• Athletic Complex: gender-neutral washroom, downstairs along the Kinesiology corridor

Brantford campus:

• Grand River Hall: men’s and women’s washrooms, first floor

• One Market: gender-neutral washrooms by the lounge area 

• Research Academic Centre West: men’s and women’s washrooms, basement 

• Student Centre: men’s and women’s washrooms, first floor 

Kitchener campus:

• Faculty of Social Work, gender-neutral washroom, second floor

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