McGill student union hopes to provide free pads and tampons on campus

Student leaders are trying to institute a new fee to fund the purchase and distribution of menstrual hygiene products.

Undergraduates to vote on plan to purchase and distribute menstrual hygiene products

McGill students will vote on a plan to provide free tampons to students Nov. 11-18. (The Associated Press)

McGill University students may soon be able to find free pads and tampons on campus.

Student leaders hope to institute a new fee to fund the purchase and distribution of menstrual hygiene products.

The president of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU), Ben Ger, got the idea when he stumbled across some pads and tampons left by a former executive in the SSMU offices.

Having no need for the products himself, Ger sparked a discussion with fellow SSMU executive, Elaine Patterson.

"Ben suggested, 'Wait, what if we provide free menstrual care products to all students on campus?' And that's kind of where the idea started and from there it's been snowballing," Patterson told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

They began researching and found that Brown University in Rhode Island had started providing free menstrual products, but no Canadian schools had taken such a step.

Unanimous support from council

Ger and Patterson, along with other student leaders, brought the proposal for a 90-cent fee to council Oct. 20 where it passed unanimously.

The per-student, per-semester fee would fund the purchase of 10 pads and 10 tampons per menstruating student, for eight cycles accounted for annually.

Calculations are based off of an estimate that 56 per cent of McGill undergraduates are menstruating.

Students will vote on the proposal Nov. 11-18.

"The reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive," Ger said. "I'm feeling pretty good."

Menstrual hygiene products would be available in the SSMU building's women's, gender neutral and men's washrooms, in an effort to be inclusive to transgender and gender nonconforming people.

Menstrual products an 'economic burden'

Patterson defends the initiative, saying that menstrual hygiene products are an "economic burden," considering menstruation is not a choice.

"Our community can demonstrate its commitment to fixing issues of systemic discrimination together," she said in an email to CBC.

Up until July 2015, menstrual hygiene products were taxed federally under what was known as the "tampon tax."

"I think it goes a long way to make the step towards recognizing that these goods are necessary, not luxury," said Ger.

Proposal meets mixed reaction on campus

While the initiative has been met with widespread support, not everyone thinks the fee – which will benefit some at the cost of all – is fair.

Andrew Martin, a first year economics undergraduate at McGill, says he will not vote in favour of the fee.

"It doesn't seem like those products are so expensive," he said. "If they can afford to pay tuition here at McGill, then they can afford a few dollars for their assorted items."

With files from CBC's Daybreak