From stigma to accessibility of products, it has been difficult for students to speak up about some of the challenges they face around menstruation. They were concerns Grade 12 student Christine Lin heard from her peers in her role as Student Trustee for the York Region District School Board over the last year, and they were concerns she was determined to tackle.
The result is Change the Cycle, a menstrual equity program that will make free menstrual hygiene products available to all elementary and secondary students in the York Region District School Board beginning with the 2021-2022 school year.
“Menstrual products are essential to the health and wellbeing of people who menstruate, yet they continue to be a stigmatizing topic for youth,” said Louise Sirisko, Director of Education, in a statement. “The inability to afford menstrual products may become a barrier to students’ positive learning experience and healthy growth.”
These were the concerns Christine says she heard firsthand beginning last fall when she noticed several other Ontario school boards had introduced similar programs.
“I realised just how far our Board was a bit behind and how something like this is, in fact, very possible,” she says. “It is what I have been seeing around me and also just speaking to students from the Board who are menstruators and have experienced stigma and difficulty accessing products. It made me realise how common this experience is for students and how difficult it may be for some students to remain in school and to speak up and ask for the products. That is when I began to do more research connecting with student affinity groups and ultimately bringing this to the Board to start an initiative.”
When she brought the idea to staff, Christine says the response was “quick and very positive” and all levels within the YRDSB worked together to make it happen.
Now that plans have been put in place, the reaction from students and the community alike has been quick and very positive as well, she says.
“Many people were reacting and saying it was a step in the right direction, that there were teachers in the Board who for years have been purchasing menstrual hygiene products themselves for their students and this is a great way that it can benefit so many students across the Board. Students as well have expressed their thanks for doing a program like this, especially menstruators, especially educators who have worked with maybe younger students who have seen the effects of menstrual inequity.”
As a Grade 12 student in her final week of high school, Christine says she knew she wanted to have a positive impact on the York Region community when she put herself forward as a student trustee. In some ways, it is a legacy she leaves behind as she goes onto the next chapter of her life and although she says she won’t be able to see the benefits of the program herself, she is glad that all students will have easier access to the materials they need.
“I can see where it is going and although I won’t be a student trustee in the next year, I am hoping all the younger students will be able to benefit from something like this,” she says. “We have made an effort to ensure the dispensers will be available in both elementary and secondary schools because in elementary schools it is usually when the students first begin their menstrual cycle and it can be a very daunting experience. We wanted to make sure we include elementary school voices and make sure that students, younger students who are just beginning their cycle, receive the support they need in that critical moment of their lives.
“We also made sure to include the dispensers in gender neutral washrooms and are looking into the possibility of having them in men’s washrooms. We want to make sure to include the LGBTQ2S+ community. We want to make sure that those students are also supported because it is very difficult for them to access products and especially if they are closeted and they haven’t come out and if they are comfortable asking. We want to make sure that all student voices – elementary, LGBTQ2S+ students are also included in the program.”
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran