At the most recent Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) legislative council meeting on Oct. 13, SSMU President Ben Ger put forward a motion that would—if passed in the upcoming Fall 2016 referendum—have SSMU adopt a Free Menstrual Hygiene Products Policy. The policy would create a $0.90 per semester fee to fund the purchase and distribution of free menstrual hygiene products–such as tampons and pads, to the student body.
The motion rightly acknowledges that SSMU’s obligation to provide menstrual products to students stems from its commitment in its Equity Policy to “leadership in matters concerning the wellbeing of marginalized groups.”
Current difficulties in obtaining menstrual products on campus can be a significant source of unnecessary anxiety, especially if a menstruating student needs to find such a product unexpectedly before a class or an examination. Presently, such feminine hygiene products are available for purchase at the Arts Undergraduate Society’s SNAX, and in limited and expensive bathroom vendors.
Menstrual products are an additional expense that female students incur every month for a necessary item. The Motion Regarding the Free Menstrual Hygiene Products Policy would create a more equitable campus for female students by relieving the anxiety and financial barriers currently associated with accessing these products.
The adoption of such a policy at a university like McGill is also an important symbolic move, advocating for the rights of women in education. Education has historically been an area where women have faced discrimination—women were barred from attending McGill until 1884. Menstruation in particular continues to prove a significant barrier to women’s education around the world, as lack of access to proper menstrual hygiene products and stigmatization can discourage girls from attending school. By embracing this policy, SSMU would be taking a step in acknowledging the discrimination women who menstruate often face in education, and the way in which menstruation can impede equal access to education.
In keeping with its symbolic significance, the motion also communicates the importance of this issue to the McGill administration. In fact, the motion calls for SSMU to renew the policy “until McGill, or the Municipal, Provincial, or Federal Government recognize that these products must be classified as Necessary Goods and pass a subsidy program to eliminate their cost and/or supply them publicly.”
In providing menstrual hygiene products, both SSMU and McGill must make these products accessible to transgender members of the McGill community. While the current motion proposes to provide menstrual hygiene products in gender-neutral bathrooms and at Healthy McGill kiosks, the McGill administration can go even further. Following the example of schools such as Brown University, McGill should provide menstrual products in women’s, men’s, and gender-inclusive bathrooms across campus.
Providing free menstrual hygiene products is a simple step that can normalize menstruation, communicate that menstruating students are welcome on campus, and reduce the chance that a student would have to remove themselves from their learning environment in order to find a pad or tampon. Whether or not students are personally affected by the provision of free menstrual hygiene products, this motion stands to benefit the entire student body. The motion is not just about women—it is about creating a fairer and more equal university community, where no students are subject to barriers which prevent them from reaching their full potential. All students benefit from being in an environment that minimizes any potential barriers that prevent students from being fully engaged in their post-secondary education. Furthermore, the cost of this improved university community comes at a mere $0.90 per student per semester. This cost is minimal when considered in comparison to other regular expenses students incur on campus for items such as coffee or samosas.
The Motion Regarding the Free Menstrual Hygiene Products Policy will benefit cisgender women and all menstruating people on campus, and is valuable in its advocacy role as a means to encourage further change. McGill students would be making an essential statement by voting in favour of it in the upcoming Fall referendum.