University of the Fraser Valley union demands free menstrual products for staff, students

Petition calls it a human rights issue, asks for products at Chilliwack/Abbotsford campus washrooms

Menstrual products are just as much of a sanitary necessity as toilet paper and should be provided by large employers and in public facilities.

That’s according to the union representing faculty and staff at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), the Student Union Society and more than a thousand people who have signed their petition.

“It actually blows my mind that we have to beg with a petition to get menstrual products in washrooms,” Melissa Naman told The Progress Tuesday.

Naman is the human rights representative for the Faculty and Staff Association (FSA).

Given the perceived inaction so far on the part of UFV administration to get it done — despite a sentiment of “general support” — the FSA has initiated a campaign entitled “Go with the flow” and created a petition that as of Dec. 4 had 1,200 signatures.

“No person should have to miss work or school and become unfairly disadvantaged because they do not have access to (or cannot afford) menstrual products,” the petition states. “Just like toilet paper, menstrual products are essential for personal hygiene and sanitation.”

Naman said the FSA broached the possibility of UFV providing menstrual products for free at all UFV campus washrooms with administration at a labour and management meeting in 2018, and it came up again at a meeting in October. Naman said administration had a target implementation date of April 1, 2020, but there has been no formal announcement or written commitment.

So the FSA, along with members of the UFV Student Union Society, plans to deliver the petition to UFV president Joanne MacLean on Dec. 10, which is International Human Rights Day.

“If you are not providing proper sanitation products in the washroom, think of the consequences of that,” Naman said. “If you don’t have access to these products, then you have to miss work or school. It completely, unfairly disadvantages someone based on a need for products that are equivalent to toilet paper.”

The school says free sanitation products are coming, but the cost is an issue and they have had several speed bumps along the way. UFV director of student life and development Kyle Baillie said the school has been working on this project for at least two years.

“We’ve had some challenges along the way,” Baillie said Wednesday. “But I think there has definitely been a good groundswell of attention, and I think the province also mandating this in the high schools has been a good step forward.”

Baillie said they ran into challenges finding a machine that dispenses for free, and they ran into issues sourcing a vendor. UFV estimates the cost would be approximately $100,000 a year.

“When you look at the fact that we are a small city of 16,000 or 17,000 people, 60 per cent of whom would be using this service, that’s not an insignificant number.”

As for the target implementation date of April 1, 2020, that is unlikely. Baillie said that date was put forward because it represents the start of the school’s fiscal year, so any budget decision made now couldn’t be implemented before that date.

“We are looking at some time after April that it would come into play,” he said.

As for the FSA’s petition and costs, Naman points to a campaign by the United Way called The Period Promise that accepts donations, helps to organize campaigns to collect donations, and asks elected officials and business owners to step up.

B.C. public school should soon have free menstrual products in all their washrooms as Education Minister Rob Fleming issued a ministerial order in April ordering all school districts to install dispensary machines. The government provided $300,000 in startup funding to make it happen.

In May, the Chilliwack school district estimated it would cost $22,500 a year to supply all middle school and high school girls’ washrooms.

• READ MORE: Chilliwack school district estimates costs of tampons, pads at $22,500 annually

• READ MORE: B.C. schools must provide free tampons, pads to students by end of year

The United way says one in seven Canadian girls have missed school because of their menstrual cycle, often because of stigma or the lack of access to pads and tampons.

Asked why in 2019 this is still a question if it is a human rights issue and a matter of simple necessity, Naman said she thinks it’s a combination of the stigma about menstruation and the cost.

“A lot of people are pretty uncomfortable talking about it,” she said. “And the cost factor. Anything that costs money is going to take a long time for people to agree to.”

The UFV’s FSA open petition is here: https://form.simplesurvey.com/f/l/GoWithTheFlow


@PeeJayAitch
paul.henderson@theprogress.com

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