The FSU is helping to break barriers surrounding menstruation, by offering free menstrual products in SC and OBS washrooms

Header image for the article The FSU is helping to break barriers surrounding menstruation, by offering free menstrual products in SC and OBS washrooms Credit: MELISSA NOVACASKA
Fanshawe Student Union president, Jahmoyia Smith (right) and Fanshawe's sexual violence prevention advisor, Leah Marshall (left) are both excited and pleased about the FSU's initiative to implement free menstrual products in the Student Centre (SC) and Out Back Shack (OBS) female and gender neutral washrooms.

The Fanshawe Student Union (FSU) is making a change to their washrooms this year by installing machines to dispense free feminine hygiene products for students who are in need.

According to FSU president, Jahmoyia Smith, the machines will be placed in all female and gender- neutral washrooms in the Student Centre (SC) as well as in The Out Back Shack (OBS).

The machines are scheduled to be fully installed by Friday, Sept. 14 and ready to be used by Monday, Sept. 17 (if not beforehand).

Smith said the machines carry both tampons and sanitary napkin (pads) and while they only fit a specific brand of products, both Always and Tampax products are available in the main FSU office (SC1000) and the Sharing Shop (SUB1015).

According to Smith, this new FSU initiative came from an idea she had during a breakout session at a conference she attended in 2017.

“[At the conference,] we talked about how we can kind of break down the barriers that society has created around periods and menstruation and stuff like that,” Smith said.

After getting positive feedback from other conference attendees about her idea and Smith knowing that another Ontario College had something similar in the works, she knew the FSU could do it too.

“I came back [from the conference and] said we need to do this,” Smith said.

According to Smith, with the help from both last year's and this year's FSU executives and team, they were able to “allocate a little bit of a budget”, towards the initiative and after research, were able to find machines that would bypass the usual payment they would require to dispense a tampon or pad.

Though last school year the FSU executives and members were unable to fully put the initiative into action, the work that they did, along with this year's executives and team, was able to make it happen this school year.

According to Smith, though this was an idea she brought back to the FSU, along with her passion for it, it was a team effort that was “fully supported”, when presented to them.

“We're really excited [and] it's a really exciting time for students,” Smith said. “It's free for students [and] we do encourage students to take what they need and be generous when they're taking it.”

According to Smith, the initiative is fully funded and supported by the FSU, while the machines will be monitored every 24 hours and filled up as much as possible. There will also be a system put in place that will help the FSU see how much they will need to stock up on products as well as the usage of them.

“The FSU cares. We care about our students and we're here as a pillar for them and not just a student council or student organization, but we're here to ensure that they are the best students and they have success during their career at Fanshawe and the best way to do that is to ensure that all their needs are met and this is a great need and I feel it needs to be met,” Smith said.

When asked why installing the machines and distributing free menstrual products was an initiative that the Fanshawe should have, Smith had positives to share.

“I feel like it's a necessity and its not something we should pay for. It's crazy, the numbers when you look at them, [of those who] have to miss out on school because they don't have proper sanity napkins or menstruation products, which is sad,” Smith said. “We live in a first world country, a very developed country where I feel like those who use these products should have access to these things and they shouldn't have to miss out on school or any sort of academic because of it, because it is a natural body process. It's natural and these products are a necessity.”

Smith acknowledged there seems to still be a stigma in society around the topic of menstruation, which creates a barrier for those who go through the cycle and therefore need sanitary products.

“People are embarrassed to go ask for a sanity napkin or tampon or are embarrassed to walk around with it in their hands, which it shouldn't because it's a natural cycle and it hurts, it touches me, as a women and as a female, it really does hurt that that is happening in our society and I kind of want to break those barriers down,” Smith said. “I know I can't do it on my own, but I feel like this is one step towards that. I wouldn't want to hear about students missing class or missing school because they can't afford these products so that's kind of the reason why we wanted to provide them for students so they know that they're there, they can get them for free, they can take what they need and leave a little for others.”

Smith was quick to point out that there is a demographic on campus that would benefit from the offering of these products and that the FSU isn't doing this to jump on one side of the spectrum, because ultimately men, women and people in general menstruate and use these products.

Even though this is an FSU initiative, Leah Marshall, Fanshawe's sexual violence prevention advisor said she was pleased after hearing about the FSU's new project for students.

“I'm so excited that Jahmoyia was able to implement this on campus because menstrual care is health care, it's not a luxury. Being able to provide [hygiene products] to students at no cost is actually a very monumental thing to see happening on a college campus,” Marshall said. “Seeing that support come from the Fanshawe Student Union, that is working for the support of students is really powerful.”

According to Marshall, including the products for those that need them in not only washrooms for those who identify as female, but also gender neutral washrooms is a “fantastic idea, considering the shift of the inclusion of these facilities.

“To be happening on our campus it's important for us to acknowledge that it's any person that sees that product as something that they need to use and so the fact that they're installed in [gender neutral] washrooms as well, I think is a very important piece of this project, that it's not just available in the washrooms that are specifically outlined as washrooms for female identified folks.”

Marshall said she also sees the importance of this FSU initiative because it helps open up “broader conversations” of the importance of accessing these products, even on a global context.

“The cost of these products is quite high and having to use these products every month, especially for students that are on limited budgets and if we look at this kind of in a global context as well, there are a lot of barriers sometimes to accessing these products depending on the financial ability that people have to do so and so by implementing something like this on campus, we are taking down some of those barriers in terms of the cost and the ability to access these things and shifting the thought process around these products as a luxury,” Marshall said. “By making them available, the Fanshawe Student Union and Jahmoyia have really opened up an opportunity for students that maybe there would have been some barriers to accessing those products, especially sometimes financial barriers.”

Katie O'Hara, a first year Fanshawe dental assisting student is also happy about the implementation of the machines and free products, considering that the cost for post-secondary education is high and “adds up”.

“I think that's awesome and it should have happened a long time ago,” O'Hara said. [Menstruation] is something that we can't control, [but] for something that we can't control, it's nice that we can have these products provided by the Fanshawe Student Union.”

With other schools in the city and beyond beginning to offer these products for free, Smith said she does see this as a greater way to help break down those barriers.

Smith said she hopes this “great” initiative will stay for many years to come at the College and that the machines, products and overall environment they are in, need to be respected.

If students have any questions or want to learn more about the impacts and importance of the initiative or products, feel free to contact Jahmoyia at j_smith266@nullfanshawec.ca, or drop by the FSU main office at SC1000.