Thunder Bay

Pilot project would offer free menstrual products in city facilities

A pilot project that would provide free menstrual products at city facilities in Thunder Bay, Ont. is moving one step forward.

Venues like arenas, pools and libraries would offer free menstrual products

Boxes of tampons and pads sit on the shelf in a 2019 file photo
The City of Thunder Bay hopes to begin implementing a pilot project offering free menstrual products in city recreation centres and libraries later this year. (Mike Stewart/Associated Press)

A pilot project that would provide free menstrual products at city facilities in Thunder Bay, Ont. is moving one step forward.

On Monday night, city administration will present council with options for delivering the program, which would provide menstrual products at centres like arenas, aquatic venues and libraries. 

A number of other municipalities have already adopted similar programs, with city councillor Shelby Ch'ng, noting Thunder Bay should follow suit. 

"It can be quite a vulnerable experience when you're caught somewhere and you experience not having the right sanitary products on you. And it's extremely vulnerable to have to ask somebody for help, for something that you really cannot control over your body," she said. 

"It's something that can be easily alleviated by offering free menstrual products."

Coun. Shelby Ch'ng is one of the people who has been pushing to begin offering free menstrual products in city-run facilities in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Jeff Walters/CBC)

City administration is proposing three options for the program in city recreation facilities.

The first would install dispensing units to supply menstrual products in every female and gender neutral washroom in its recreation facilities, at an estimated cost of $65,800 for the first year, and then $41,400 for the annual product cost.

The second option would install dispensing units in only the primary public female and gender neutral washrooms in each facility, at the same estimated annual product cost, and a lower first-year cost of $49,800.

The third option, which administration is not recommending, would supply the products at a service counter or office where patrons would need to make the request to staff.

The cost to provide the program in libraries is listed separately in the memo to council, and is estimated to fall between $13,920 and $12,520, depending on which option is selected. 

Ch'ng said she favours the first option, which is noted by administration to provide the broadest access to the products.

It's also the best option according to Danielle Kaftarian, operations manager for The Period Purse, a charity focused on reducing the stigma surrounding menstruation, and expanding access to free menstrual products. 

"That's the best access for people," she said. "Having these supplies available right when people need them in as many washrooms [as possible], that's what we would love to see," she said.

Providing free menstrual products is also important because affordability can be a barrier, she added.

Programs like the one being planned in Thunder Bay not only provide necessary products to those who need them, when they need them, she said, but they also help to tackle stigma associated with periods, by getting people to talk about the issue.

The city aims to launch the pilot program later this year, once COVID restrictions allow for recreational facilities to reopen, said Franco Marchese, the city's manager of facilities. It would continue running for the entirety of 2022, after which the program will be assessed to determine whether it continues.