Credit: Courtesy of BC Building Trades Council

BC Infrastructure Benefits recently began offering free menstrual hygiene products at job sites for workers such as Mollie Routledge (left), an electrician with IBEW Local 993 in Kamloops, and colleague Chandra Basil-Dugas

A Crown corporation, a retail giant and a nonprofit group have thrown their weight behind efforts to make menstrual hygiene products accessible to everyone

Half of the world’s population will experience a period—which means that all of those people need to buy menstrual hygiene products and use them monthly. For some, that isn’t an option.

It isn’t just a problem for developing countries. In B.C., more than a quarter of people in this province who menstruate have experienced period poverty or a period without essential hygiene products, according to a new report from United Way of the Lower Mainland. Meanwhile, 20 and 30 percent, respectively, have missed and had to leave work due to these barriers.

Several B.C. organizations are stepping up to help change things.

BC Infrastructure Benefits—the Crown corporation that provides labour for taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects in B.C.—recently began offering free menstrual products at jobsites. This move is part of United Way’s Period Promise, which aims to combat the stigma around periods and reduce period poverty.

BCIB announced it on the eve of Menstrual Hygiene Day, a global advocacy effort that since 2014 has brought together nonprofits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual health and hygiene for all women and girls. 

The first Crown corporation to sign the Period Promise, BCIB was encouraged to do so by Build TogetHER: Women of the Building Trades, a national Canada’s Building Trades Unions program that promotes, supports and mentors women in construction.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” Build TogetHER director Miranda Kurucz, an apprentice steamfitter based in Kitimat and a member of UA Local 170, said in a release. “This commitment removes one of the barriers faced by people who menstruate,” added Kurucz, whose branch of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and PipeFitting Industry of the U.S. and Canada represents about 4,000 tradespeople in B.C.

To tackle the skilled trades shortage and as part of its Respectful Onsite Initiative—a program that encourages discussions about issues such as reconciliation, women in trades and gender equity—BCIB is recruiting women and other underrepresented groups.

Women account for just 4 percent of the construction trades workforce in Canada, a number unchanged for years. It’s well below the participation rate in sectors such as the military and law enforcement, which have both surpassed 15-percent female representation.

“BCIB is working with the province and contractors to open doors for women and people across the gender spectrum,” said president and CEO Irene Kerr. “But it’s not enough to simply open the door. We need to create safe and welcoming jobsites so that everyone is able to do their best work.”

All for one

Lack of access to menstrual products is yet another unforeseen effect of the pandemic. The wave of job losses made it tougher for many people to afford basic necessities, with 26 percent of those who menstruate in B.C. saying they experienced a period without access to essential hygiene products, according to United Way.

To improve accessibility and promote equal opportunity, the nonprofit has teamed up with London Drugs on the Wellness. Period. campaign. Until June 30, for every qualifying period hygiene product purchased at London Drugs in B.C., the company will make a financial or product donation. In turn, the United Way will distribute menstrual products to people in need via neighborhood houses, drop-in centres, settlement services, overnight shelters and other community organizations across the province.

“Periods are a fact of life. But for those living in poverty or who are vulnerable in other ways, access to necessary hygiene products can be challenging. And the pandemic has exacerbated the situation,” explained Neal Adolph, director of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) labour participation department at United Way. “We’re putting the call out to B.C residents to help us fill the immediate need, but also help solve the systemic problem of period poverty.”  

Period poverty can also profoundly impact a person’s life, preventing them from attending school, work or social events. It isn’t a problem commonly associated with wealthy countries, but Clint Mahlman, president and COO of London Drugs, thinks we need to open our eyes. “It is happening right here in our communities across B.C., and we can all be a part of the solution,” Mahlman said.