The municipal government will be providing free menstrual products to homeless shelters and respite centres across the city.

Toronto’s executive committee approved $222,359 of funding for product dispensers and supplies in over 76 shelters, respite and priority drop-in centres in Toronto, as well as 39 priority neighbourhood recreation community centres. City council officially approved the new budget on March 7.

Although both Toronto Shelter and Toronto 24-hour Respite Site Standards require hygiene products like tampons and pads to be provided to clients, often times insufficient funding meant these services were not adequately provided.

Kristyn Wong-Tam, city councillor for Ward 13, was a key advocate for this funding, highlighting the need for more gender-based budgeting initiatives in the city.

City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam speaks at gender and equity budget town hall. (Julia Nowicki/Ryersonian)

“I’m incredibly encouraged by the fact that city council has agreed to purchase the dispensers as well as the products to make sure that low-income menstruators will access [them],” Wong-Tam said. “I believe it’s a matter of dignity [but] it’s also an issue of providing the right type of care and product to those who need it, especially those who are most vulnerable.”

However, according to the organization Kits for a Cause, providing appropriate products is not just a matter of dignity but rather “a serious public health concern,” as those that must do without tampons or pads resort to using makeshift products of old cloth or toilet paper. This can cause yeast infections, urinary tract infections or toxic shock syndrome.

The funding initiative first began back in May 2018, when Wong-Tam supported the efforts of The Period Purse, a non-profit organization that provides free menstrual products to those vulnerable to period poverty. Period poverty occurs when financial constraints prevent individuals from obtaining menstrual products. Jana Girdauskas, the founder of the organization, said that The Period Purse currently supplements 23 per cent of the need in Toronto.

Although Girdauskas said this is a step in the right direction for the city, she hopes to continue her efforts to ensure next year more funding is allocated in the budget.

“We’re very excited. We feel like this is a step in the right direction and it’s being acknowledged that menstrual equity is an issue,” Girdauskas said. “[It] does need to be government-funded, not just from volunteers and donations from the community.”

However, Girdauskas said that the funding will still not be enough and The Period Purse will have to continue to fill those gaps.

According to a study conducted by the Canadian Centre of Economic Analysis, more than seven million tampons and pads are needed by vulnerable women and girls in Toronto.

It is also approximated to cost $1.9 million per year to provide enough menstrual products to approximately 22,000 individuals in shelters and school-aged girls from low-income brackets in Toronto.

Prior to the debate Thursday, Wong-Tam spoke at a town hall about the importance of gender-based budgeting and said that this involves centering the needs of all genders in budgets. Financial tools should ensure equitable delivery of services, programs and policies for all. Gender, in this case, refers to men, women, non-binary and transgender individuals.

“It’s so important that money is included in budgets to ensure that everyone’s needs are taken care of,” Wong-Tam said. “That means that we have to ensure that the services, programs and policies are designed with everyone in mind.”

Although Wong-Tam said she is excited the motion was passed, there were various others that were turned down — ones that could have a disproportionate impact on women, seniors and children.

One of the motions involved providing Toronto Public Service staff compensation packages comparable to that of Toronto police. Wong-Tam argued that the police sector is often male-dominated and has one of the most lucrative compensation packages of all city employees, including job security and benefits.

“We know that there are many people who work in the Toronto public sector, from childcare to library workers to long term care workers to public health nurses, many of them are actually women and they do not have the same type of remuneration package as the Toronto police,” Wong-Tam said. “If somebody is getting a two per cent or three per cent wage increase, based on the adjustments and the cost of living, then everybody should get that.”

Wong-Tam says that providing menstrual products is a good example of the city taking a step back and ensuring that facilities are properly equipped to cater to low-income individuals.

“What I’d like to see ultimately, is that all city-owned and -operated facilities should have dispensers, [and] these dispensers would be stocked with an appropriate product or the options of products and that menstruators, when they need them, [would] just have access,” Wong-Tam said. “They should not be forced to ask [and] agency providers should not be forced to fundraise or beg for products via donations. It should just be part of the way the city operates.”

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