When Chloé Pronovost-Morgan, and Julia Coste, both U2 Arts, began planning the launch of Monthly Dignity, they didn’t foresee the initiative’s rapid success. Just two weeks after its launch on Nov. 16, the students had raised over $1,500 in donations for the program, which distributes menstrual hygiene products to homeless women in Montreal.
Coste came up with the idea for the initiative while traveling with her family this past year, when she unexpectedly got her period. Though she was in discomfort, she recognized that she had many resources at her disposal to cope with her menstruation symptoms, such as cramps and nausea—a privilege she feels that most women take for granted. This experience led her to reflect upon the challenges of menstruating while homeless, and thus, the idea for Monthly Dignity was born.
Upon returning to McGill, she told fellow student and friend, Pronovost-Morgan, about her idea for a non-profit. Soon after, the two began meeting twice a week to outline the project’s logistics. While in the development stage of the initiative, the two founders secured a distribution-delivery relationship with the Salvation Army’s Montreal women’s shelter, which provides services to over 550 homeless women in the city.
Around the world, menstrual hygiene products are still unaffordable for homeless and disadvantaged women. In Canada, it is estimated that the average menstruating person between ages 12 and 49 will spend $65.82 per year on basic menstrual hygiene products before tax. Though tampons and other menstrual products are still subject to luxury tax in many countries, the two founders viewed these products as a basic right and essential to promoting overall well-being.
“In a nutshell, it really is just a question of physical health and mental health,” Pronovost-Morgan said. “Women are actually more vulnerable to infections when they are on their period, and so if they are forced to use alternatives that they come up with themselves, and they are already living in insalubrious conditions, that just makes the risk exponential.”
For Pronovost-Morgan and Coste, their mission has a broader purpose: To challenge the stigma surrounding menstruation, and what people who menstruate experience.
“I think that it is uniting two things that are already taboo in society: Homelessness and menstruation,” Pronovost-Morgan said. “The combination of the two leads to this huge avoidance we have just been propagating for forever.”
Coste explained that this stigma stems from how difficult many people find it to think about the realities of public menstruation, especially those who have never experienced a period.
“It is assumed that women are going to deal with [their monthly periods] because it is a woman’s problem, and so it shouldn’t be something that everyone pays for through taxes,” Coste said. “I think that through sensitization and raising awareness, and just talking about what getting your period entails, maybe people’s visions can be changed [….] That’s where the name of [Monthly Dignity] comes from. It really is a question of dignity and how you perceive yourself.”
In the coming months, Coste and Pronovost-Morgan plan to expand Monthly Dignity’s reach. Among their long-term priorities, the founders want to reach out to transmen and non-cis people who are not using women’s shelters. Ultimately, the pair view comfortable, safe menstruation as a right, not a privilege.
“[Menstruation] shouldn’t be something you feel ashamed about ever, it shouldn’t be something makes you feel uncomfortable in your body,” Pronovost-Morgan said. “By providing menstrual hygiene products, we hope to alleviate that burden.”