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Debra Elless and her son, volunteer Cameron Elless, at the United Way Lower Mainland Office in Burnaby. Photo: Joshua Berson

Pandemic affecting period product donations in Vancouver

Shortages of product donations and the economic impact of the COVID-19 is making it harder for those in need to access tampons, pads, and menstrual cups.

By Eleni Vlahiotis , in Health , on December 9, 2020

Donations for menstrual-period products have dropped off significantly due to the pandemic, at a time when women and low-income individuals are already being hit the hardest.

Period Promise, a project that United Way runs that collects and distributes period products in Vancouver, is reeling from the effects of the pandemic.

The campaign’s “Tampon Tuesday” initiative saw a huge increase in product donations between 2018 and 2019. They received over 220,000 individual donations in 2018, and in 2019 those donations increased by more than 16 times.

“We usually get 500,000 products on an annual basis, but this year we received maybe 50,000,” said Neal Adolph, director of the Canadian Labour Congress’s labour-participation efforts for the United Way. “So the difference is pretty enormous.”

Social distancing and safety measures have led to a decrease in people able to make in-person donations, even as the demand for free products has grown in places that still offer them, like food banks and homeless shelters.

Deyvika Srinivasa, policy and advocacy coordinator of the nonprofit Free Periods Canada. Photo: Free Period Canada.

“Product distribution is more difficult from our end,” Deyvika Srinivasa, policy and advocacy co-ordinator for Free Periods Canada said. “But also from the shelters’ end, it’s harder for them to regulate who they want to drop off products.”

“People are seeing shortages.”

Activists across the board are seeing this same issue. 

“In terms of access to menstrual supplies in relation to COVID-19 and the pandemic, people are seeing shortages,” said Taqdir Kaur, a PhD student at the University of B.C. and founder of the @imwithperiods social enterprise that supports self-care for people of all genders with periods.

Taqdir Kaur, founder of the social enterprise @imwithperiods. Photo: @photosbykho

The Period Promise campaign has had to come up with creative solutions to circumvent the donation issues, including shifting to cash-based donations. Although the results have not been the same, it has allowed the non-profit to continue serving communities during the pandemic.

For activists and organizers, the exacerbation of difficulties for those in need of tampons, pads, and menstrual cups is not surprising.

“We know that if people are struggling to access food, of course, they’re going to struggle to access menstrual products,” said Nikki Hill, co-chair of the Period Promise campaign.

The fight goes on

Period poverty, a phrase used by activists to describe the inaccessibility of sanitary products and hygienic spaces in which to use them, has been a pressing issue in Canada for decades.

According to the United Way, nearly a quarter of Canadian women struggle to buy period products for themselves or their children in their lifetime. Despite Canada cutting the tax on menstrual products in 2015, the high cost of products remains out of reach for homeless, low-income, and marginalized people.

Although the topic of period poverty still remains taboo in many places, the conversation has shifted over the past few years in Canada, thanks to organizations like the United Way.

Sussanne Skidmore and Nikki Hill, volunteer co-chairs of the Period Promise campaign. Photo: Joshua Berson

Sussanne Skidmore, the second co-chair of the Period Promise campaign, has been involved in this work for years, and the progress she said she has witnessed is astonishing.

“If you had asked me a decade or two ago if I was gonna be talking about menstruation on a daily basis, I probably would have said no.”