Hamilton looks at buying menstrual products for low-income women and girls

Hamilton city councillors are looking into what it would cost to provide menstrual products for low-income women and girls.

Menstrual products are 'not a luxury. It's like toilet paper or soap'

Halima Al-Hatimy says menstruation is healthy, necessary and uncontrollable, yet many who need menstrual products can't afford them. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton city councillors are looking into what it would cost to provide menstrual products for low-income women and girls.

The city's board of health voted unanimously Monday to study the feasibility of handing out the products through local school boards, shelters and food banks.

It came at the request of Halima Al-Hatimy, the Hamilton-based founder of the FemCare community health initiative. Al-Hatimy's group fundraises to give maxi pads and tampons to people who can't afford them.

Al-Hatimy says she's had times in her own life where she's used rags, panhandled and gone hungry to afford menstrual products. And that's not unusual, she said. The average person who menstruates will spend $6,000 in a lifetime for menstrual products. Many just can't afford it.

While on social assistance, Al-Hatimy said, "one week out of a month, I had to eat less to afford those products." She's now a Ryerson University graduate student studying health administration in home and community care.

It's called "period poverty," she said. It can bring skin infections, urogenital diseases, absenteeism and shame and humiliation. It can even cost people jobs.

"It impacts women all over the world, and not just in third world countries."

The city's board of health was receptive Monday. Two male councillors said they were amazed a program doesn't already exist.

Maureen Wilson, Ward 1 councillor, moved the feasibility study to spend city money. There's a social stigma against talking about menstruation, she said, and makes women feel ashamed.

"It is natural, it is normal, and in fact, it's a source of power," she said.

"To menstruate is a costly endeavour, but it is normal and essential." And "buying products that address that is not a luxury. It's like toilet paper or soap."

Toronto estimates in June showed it would cost nearly $2 million to provide menstrual products to some of that city's 22,000 women, girls and transgender people in shelters and low-income brackets.


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca