Saskatchewan rolls out program to supply menstrual products for schools

Saskatchewan school divisions are trying to supporting girls’ education through various initiatives, like introducing science-based learning opportunities and taking initiative on providing environments that are inclusive and welcoming.

One piece of that puzzle is reducing day-to-day stress, in whatever shape or form it may take. A multi-million-dollar partnership the government announced recently aims to alleviate at least one of those stressors.

More than $3 million in menstrual products will be sent to schools and emergency shelters through a partnership between the province and the Shoppers Foundation for Women’s Health. The initiative marks the start of a three-year incentive to roll out the project across each school divisions.

“All schools are focusing on mental health and sense of belonging, as well as wellbeing. One piece of that, speaking specifically to the menstruation products, are that it is now a stressor girls don’t have to worry about,” said Lloydminster Public School Division superintendent Stacy Klisowsky.

In divisions like Lloydminster, menstruation hygiene products are part of a larger initiative to set students up for success, especially in areas where there historically have been gender-based disadvantages for girls.

According to a 2016 Statistics Canada report, more than two-thirds of women had a postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree in easily accessible areas, but the percentage gradually declined to 39.6 per cent in more remote areas.

In Saskatchewan, many Indigenous schools operate independently of the provincial system that oversees school divisions. These schools operate under the federal arm of Indigenous Services Canada. One of the downsides is that as a result, they don’t receive the same incentives as many other schools.

“Any type of support is necessary, especially when it comes to funding that would enhance the operations of our school,” said Miranda Moccasin, principal of Salteaux Heritage School north of Battleford.

Across the country, it’s estimated women spend up to $6,000 on menstrual products in their lifetime; women in rural communities pay up to twice the price for the same products found in larger cities.

“Feminine products are a basic human need for all females and they are expensive,” Prince Albert School Division board chair Suzanne Stubbs said.

“This donation not only provides a solution to many women and girls, we know that access to these products can directly impact a student’s ability to engage in their education without the added burden of financial concerns.”

For some in the Northern Lights School Division, which includes several remote areas in the province, access barriers and higher costs for menstrual hygiene products is a concern.

“Some of our smaller centres do not have any stores at all,” education director Jason Young said.

Anything that can make education more equitable for Indigenous girls in the division — from access to health products to retreats for high-risk students — is welcome, Young said.

“Part of that experience of retreats is to focus on self-esteem, building confidence, finding them the appropriate support they need and bringing them back their sense of agency in their respective communities.”

Providing access to menstrual products, “particularly for those who face financial barriers, will make a big difference for women and girls in Saskatchewan,” Minister Responsible for the Status of Women Laura Ross said in Prince Albert, when the initiative was announced.

Klisowsky said each school has its own unique set of needs and mandates.

“We have different types of things happening in different schools, dependent upon the needs of those specific kids,” she said. “Everything from how to be a good friend to what element do they need with their sense of belonging within the school.”

Kimiya Shokoohi is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. The LJI program is federally funded by the Government of Canada.

Kimiya Shokoohi, The StarPhoenix