One winter afternoon, while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed of cat videos and selfies, a CBC News article caught my eye. It described The Period Purse, a grassroots organization that provides marginalized communities with access to free menstrual products while reducing the stigma surrounding periods through menstrual equity. Though I had never personally considered the obstacles marginalized menstruators face on a monthly basis, as a menstruator, I was inspired to organize a menstrual product drive benefiting The Period Purse at my school. While the giant box marked, "Tampons and Pads," in the school foyer initially lead to some trepidation and discomfort amongst students and staff, my enthusiasm and unapologetic promotion of the drive proved infectious.
Later that spring, I attended my first Packing Party in support of The Period Purse. I brought with me the product my school had collected. Volunteers danced, passed products, filled purses, carried boxes and crushed cardboard for two hours - all for menstruators in need. I left that evening feeling energized and inspired, knowing my work with The Period Purse had just begun. However, I couldn't have predicted this would also mark the beginning of the Menstruation Nation (MN).
The MN is a spirited, positive and supportive group of students that raises awareness about menstrual equity, challenges the stigma surrounding menstruation and empowers local menstruators in the community.
The MN began in October 2017, after my second pad and tampon drive at school. Thinking it would be fun if a few of my friends accompanied me to an upcoming Packing Party, I RSVPd for four of us. Word spread and soon, another four friends registered, then six more. Suddenly, there were 14 girls from my school attending The Period Purse's October Packing Party. There, we worked with people who, despite differences in identities and ages, shared a love of helping others. The Packing Party was empowering, energizing and so much fun!
Alas, the Menstruation Nation was born.
Our ever-growing group continued to gather at Packing Parties. Later, our MN held an additional drive and hosted a Packing Party of our own. Jana Girdauskas, Founder of The Period Purse, came to talk about her journey as part of our school's Community Week. Then, a special relationship cultivated between my school and The Period Purse. It showed me the power of young people when working together, tackling inequity. I saw how the MN empowered students to advocate for themselves and others while fostering peer to peer, individual to community and student to teacher education. Given the support and enthusiasm from students, teachers and parents for this cause, Jana and I soon realized the MN belonged at every school.
We worked on the official Menstruation Nation Program and Handbook, challenging our volunteers and prospective supporters to start their very own MN chapter. Like we did at my school, the MN Program and Handbook outlines how to host drives, Packing Parties and start a conversation surrounding menstrual health with like-minded students and educators.
Since the MN launched, the program has grown from one Toronto high school to multiple institutions across Canada.
Today, the MN continues to lay the foundation for a student-focused extension of another initiative surrounding period health, sustainability and education, The Period Purse's Diva Cup Program. The pilot begins at my high school, where the MN program began. A total of 50 Diva Cups will be donated to young menstruators like me!
Throughout this journey, here is what I've learned: The work of my MN peers has helped disenfranchised menstruators in our community feel confident and stay healthy. It has also challenged the negative stigma surrounding menstruation at our school, making people ask questions and have positive conversations about periods. It has allowed us to act on equity and think creatively about healthy and sustainable solutions for disenfranchised menstruators. It has sparked an enduring, genuine passion for menstrual equity and community engagement in our members. So, we want to do more!
The MN has inspired us to achieve a world that is both equitable and compassionate. At The Period Purse, and through these programs, we achieve this goal one purse, one school, one conversation and one student at a time.
Interested in starting a Menstruation Nation chapter at your school? Email me today at email@example.com.
Since day one, The Period Purse has donated 8,718 period purses to marginalized menstruators. We too have given 7,874 refill period packs throughout this timeline. Our volunteers and donors have therefore supported our mission and vision so much so that we have given 16,592 healthy periods to people experiencing homelessness in Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Through efforts by the Toronto East and Toronto West chapters, The Period Purse continuously donates product to 65 shelters, respite centres and drop-ins across Canada's most diverse city. Outside of Toronto, we have expanded to seven active chapters. Our volunteers are working to bring menstrual equity to Brantford, Ont., Durham Region, Ont., Mississauga, Ont., Ottawa, Ont., Regina, Sask. and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
Grateful for growth and to kick-off The Spot's 2019 blog series, we are commemorating 2018 successes and sharing aspirations for the year ahead.
- We're proud to have brought on our inaugural Board of Directors, made up of five Canadian women-identifying people. Together, we have collaborated on our first-ever Strategic Plan and have already begun to see strong results and positive impact. As we continue to expand, our Board will, too. Keep your eyes peeled for more opportunities to join our Board.
- The Period Purse and fellow menstrual equity advocates Amanda Laird, author and podcast host, and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, worked with The City of Toronto to recognize May 28, 2018, as Menstrual Hygiene Day, for the first time. Menstrual Hygiene Day raises worldwide awareness of the challenges people face due to their menstruation. Toronto City Council also passed a motion to allocate $2M CAD in the 2019 budget for menstrual products in shelters, drop-ins and health centres.
- Last year, we also participated our first-ever Giving Tuesday, where we encouraged our followers and friends to contribute $12 CAD a month to our Support a Menstruator program, an opportunity to provide one person experiencing homelessness with the supplies they need to experience a healthy period, every month.
- May 28, 2019 will mark Toronto's second annual Menstrual Hygiene Day. We're honouring the initiative with an exciting event experience and we can't wait to see you there.
- We hope to implement our education program Menstruation Nation into 10 high schools and/or post-secondary schools throughout the coming months. Menstruation Nation allows us to continue the #periodtalk and reduce the stigma around periods. The program also encourages students to donate to folks within their community in need of menstrual products. For more information about Menstruation Nation and to launch a chapter of the program in your school, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- While The Period Purse is a non-profit organization, we are not yet a registered charity. That said, we are working to secure charitable status and will be updating our website with our Charity Registration Number once all aspects of the process are finalized.
For updates about The Period Purse that go directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter.
With an estimated 63,450 menstruators in Canada experiencing homelessness, The Period Purse understands there is no quick fix to this big, bloody problem. We know we need to continue to invest in communities to continue to improve the lived experiences of folks facing marginalization. We recognize that we must continue to meet with decision-makers and ambassadors to spearhead change. We are firm in our belief that through impact, empowerment, dignity, education, kindness, enthusiasm, acts of good and community that long-lasting change can and will take effect.
We are ready to tackle the year ahead as advocates for menstrual equity, champions of change and thought-leaders challenging processes. Thank you for supporting our efforts and joining us on the ride.
For more information about The Period Purse, watch this video that highlights what we do and why. The video was funded in part by the TD Volunteer Grant.
At The Period Purse, we are focused on making a positive impact on the lives of marginalized menstruators. We are also dedicated to working towards erasing the stigma associated with periods. With this at the forefront of all we do, we are committed to promoting and encouraging the use of inclusive language, which means being mindful of the words we use and making sure everyone feels safe and represented, both online and in real life.
There are so many words in the English language, we should consider ourselves quite lucky. If you wanted to describe how cold it is getting outside, or how you feel about the holidays, there's a word for that. But when it comes to being inclusive, and changing our language to welcome the spectrum of identities, some people have trouble finding the words.
This is two-fold, in my opinion. Firstly, it's important to try to be inclusive. Secondly, it's useful to think about why we are so determined to attach labels to absolutely everything from menstrual products, to relationships, to people.
It's easy to assume things. It's easy to trip up. And it's far too easy to ignore where people come from and why inclusive language is important.
So for this blog post, I reached out to a friend of mine who has lived experience.
Cole identifies as trans. They grew up in a small town seven hours north of Winnipeg, MB in the 80s and early 90s. Cole was raised in a Roman Catholic home and went to bible camp. Knowing Cole now, I would have never guessed.
Cole works as a registered massage therapist and has been living and thriving in Peterborough, ON for the past 16-years. Cole has a loving partner, who has a son.
Cole is successful, happy, healthy and dedicated to helping others through being an example of strength and perseverance. But it wasn't always this simple for Cole. In fact, getting to their good place nearly killed them.
Cole was 18 when their mom passed away - that's when they headed to Peterborough and found a welcoming queer community.
Cole always knew they were different and felt like they had been born in the wrong body. Growing up, Cole was referred to as a "tomboy," and at that time, Cole says, no one even identified as gay. Homophobia was rampant and the only LGBTQ2+ people anyone ever talked about were few and far between and often affiliated with words like "struggle" and "hardship." Even the word "lesbian" was a tough one because Cole didn't feel like a lesbian, they felt like somebody else entirely.
Then, about seven years ago, it all came to a head. Cole was tired of feeling like they were living their life as someone else.
They learned about a doctor who was taking on new trans patients, and two months thereafter, Cole was taking testosterone. Not only did they feel better, but people around Cole started noticing positive changes, as well.
It's been a roller coaster, to say the least, but Cole heedfully admits that they "pass" well as a man, which means Cole has had to confront a newfound privilege. This is a topic all on its own, but let's just say one of the things Cole has noticed is that they are always offered the cheque first when out to dinner with their partner.
However, Cole doesn't want to erase their past. It has been a journey with ample lows, but Cole wants others going through similar experiences to know they are not alone. Cole also says that if the word "she" comes up while talking about their youth, Cole is OK with that because it's a part of who they are. Not everyone feels this way, but for Cole, expressing this is important.
In the spa and massage therapy industries, Cole says it's still incredibly gendered, but they have taken it upon themself to cultivate a space that makes people feel safe and welcome.
For example, a customer's choice of pronoun may be different from their legal name, which would be used to make an insurance claim. This is something I've never given a second thought to, but it can be incredibly stressful for those who don't identify with the body, or name, they were given at birth.
Cole's is one story of a person who continues to examine and reflect upon their gender identity. At the root of it though, Cole is a human. They are Cole. And Cole is not alone.
Inclusivity is crucial, and being mindful and empathetic of an individual's experiences and preferences are too, but my advice is to refrain from being so quick to give everything a label, especially if it's only to make it easier on you. We have plenty of words available, but it's not always up to us to assign them!
Interested in connecting to learn more about The Period Purse's Inclusive Language Policy and how you can join our journey to enhancing inclusion and diversity? Contact me today at email@example.com.
As I drove away from another successful packing party, my SUV was filled with tampons and pads; my heart was full. I was glowing from another night of kindness and giving by our volunteer community. Over 30 people came and packed an enormous mountain of donations. Tampons and pads in a ziplock bag, one month's supply, topped with our motivational note.
It was late on a Saturday night and my kids were sleeping. I had time to deliver to organizations and people in need.
I dropped into shelters and visited newly opened respite centres. I and several other volunteers would eventually distribute 1,500 period packs. Every location entered, though, was at capacity. Every location needed more.
"Do you have mitts and hats? Do you have underwear and socks? Can you bring more?"
I wish I could have given them everything they wanted.
Beds were all full in the respite centres. One location was a simple drop-in; it was standing room only. Many folks trying to keep warm didn't even have a chair to sit on for the night. This is a common occurrence in the colder months.
Unfortunately, this isn't shocking to me. I've seen this before with my volunteer work in the Ve'ahavta's outreach van. I have a grasp on the high need for a warm place and everyday products. No matter how many times I see this, though, I am concerned at how quickly Toronto can soak up 1,500 period packs.
Even with hundreds of donations, we are still only serving 23 percent of Toronto's demand. Only eight percent of the community partners we support have a budget to buy period products.
That Saturday night was filled with such a roller coaster of emotions. I'm overjoyed with the hope our community can give. Then, I am upset there are so many people experiencing homelessness without period supplies and a place to sleep. Next, I experience frustration, as the city doesn't currently provide shelters, respite centres and drop-ins with even $1 for marginalized menstruators.
The following Sunday morning, I cried into my coffee. To my husband, I recited my experiences of giving out so many period packs. Finally, I wiped up my tears and tried to focused on the good.
During our 2018 Toronto Fall Blitz, we packed 687 period purses and another 1,010 refill period packs. This experience is what keeps me, us, going. Through The Period Purse, we are doing great things, but we can do more - we have to.
You can be part of that "we" and make a difference this Giving Tuesday.
Sponsor a menstruator in our city for only $12 a month. That's foregoing a few lattes, one fast food lunch or a bottle of wine: Simple sacrifices to provide one person experiencing homelessness with the supplies they need to experience a healthy period, every month.
Do more than give today; commit to making change.
"Ok, now there is a day for everything."
"This can't be real"
"Is this a joke??"
"This is the most outrageous thing I have EVER heard of. How insulting and offensive to every single female. Who makes up this SH**???? There is no modesty left in this world. Honestly, this needs to be REMOVED."
"That's just gross, what were you thinking?"
"Wtf? What a waste of time and energy... when is toenail fungus day?"
These are just a few of the more than 350 responses to Toronto Mayor John Tory's tweet announcing that Toronto had proclaimed May 28, 2018, as the city's inaugural Menstrual Hygiene Day. While the remarks may be comical, these reactions to the Mayor's declaration are just further proof that such a day is badly needed to help shed the stigma of menstruation and improve menstrual equity.
Initiated by WASH United in 2014, Menstrual Hygiene Day raises worldwide awareness of the challenges people face due to their menstruation. The 2018 initiative marked the first time that Toronto officially recognized the important awareness day.
Around the world, a lack of access to menstrual products, sanitation and privacy inhibits women, girls, trans-men and non-binary folks from managing their menses safely and with dignity, as defined by them. Makeshift menstrual products made from rags, paper, and other found materials are a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to infection. Coupled with deep-rooted taboos surrounding menstruation, the fear of leaks, stains and odors often keep marginalized menstruators home from school or work during their periods, the repercussions of which are far-reaching.
While this may sound like the kind of issue that happens only in far-away places, menstrual inequity is an issue even here at home in Canada. Many women, girls, trans-men and non-binary menstruators miss school and work every day due to a lack of access to menstrual products.
I was proud to work with Jana Girdauskas, founder and chair of The Period Purse, to bring Menstrual Hygiene Day to Toronto in 2018, with thanks to our City Hall Champion, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who took up the period poverty cause swiftly. Jana and I had a meeting scheduled with Councillor Wong-Tam on the morning of Fri., May 24 just two days before the global Menstrual Hygiene Day. Our objectives for the meeting were simply to inform Councillor Wong-Tam about period poverty, but upon learning of the issue and its effects here at home, she immediately got to work on declaring Menstrual Hygiene Day. Just two days later, Toronto's declaration of the day became front-page news!
On the heels of Menstrual Hygiene Day, Toronto City Council also passed a motion to include funding in the 2019 city budget for menstrual products in shelters, drop-ins and health centres. But raising awareness of menstrual equity and making sure menstrual products are available to all who need them is only the beginning. In order to truly achieve menstrual equity, we also need to break the curse of centuries of period shame and stigma. We need all of our policies to reflect the reality that some of the population and by some, I mean roughly half of the entire world menstruates.
Listen to this nine-minute episode of the Heavy Flow Podcast to learn more about why simply handing out pads isn't enough when it comes to menstrual equity. Read the news release to learn more about Menstrual Hygiene Day and Toronto's declaration. Stay tuned for more on Menstrual Hygiene Day 2019!
About the Author:
Amanda Laird is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and host of the Heavy Flow Podcast a weekly podcast dedicated to periods, reproductive health and other taboo health and wellness topics. Amanda is the author of the forthcoming book, Heavy Flow: Breaking the Curse of Menstruation, published by Dundurn Press in February 2019. She lives in Toronto. Follow Amanda on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at @AmandaLaird. Photo credit: Emily From