British Columbia

University in northern B.C. will fund free menstrual products in 'period poverty' pilot program

University of Northern British Columbia community will have access to free menstrual products beginning this fall.

UNBC student groups hope availability will set a provincial precedent

Social work student Emily Erickson helped with the successful campaign to make menstrual products free at UNBC's Prince George campus in northern B.C. (UNBC / handout)

Beginning this fall, students and other members of the University of Northern British Columbia community will have access to free menstrual products in select washrooms at the Prince George campus.

"This is excellent news," said Abby Dooks, director of external affairs at the UNBC Graduate Students' Society.  "It's heartwarming to see it come to fruition like this."

Inspired by the United Way's "Period Promise" campaign, Dooks and other student leaders lobbied the university administration to begin a pilot project to supply free menstrual products on campus.

Dooks says financially struggling students face difficult decisions on basic needs, whether to spend their limited cash on food or other expenses. 

Administrators didn't just approve the program, but doubled the requested funding to $1,500.

"There should not be any barriers to accessing menstrual products and I am committed to working with our UNBC community to reduce those challenges," said UNBC interim President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Geoff Payne in a statement.

"Thank you to the students and other campus leaders who came together to make this pilot project a reality and for their continued efforts to end period poverty and eliminate menstrual stigma."

Speaking to CBC's Daybreak North, Dooks echoed the call for awareness.

"There was definitely some shock around it and I think that just comes from needing to be able to speak more openly about the natural biological function of menstruating.  There needs to be a conversation about it without shame, because shame is what drives a lot of not talking about period poverty in the first place."

UNBC's decision follows a series of public policy changes across jurisdictions.

Last fall, Scotland became the first country in the world to mandate free access to menstrual products. Local authorities now have the legal duty to ensure tampons and sanitary pads are available to anyone who needs them.

In 2019, the B.C. government became the first in Canada to order all high schools to supply free products.

The UNBC pilot project remains limited in scope, for the moment.

Dispensers will be installed in three washrooms, and administrators will monitor demand to gauge how the program could be expanded.

Dooks hopes the greatest change in students' lives isn't the supply of products, but in society's expectation of need.

"It's going to create that shift in mentality around menstruation and the fact that [products] should be freely available, and you should be able to depend on the institution to provide those materials for you."