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UNBC could become first Canadian University to offer free menstrual products in bathrooms

After a new initiative, the University of Northern BC could become the first University in the country to offer free menstrual products on its campuses.

Known as the Period Promise Campaign, started by the United Way, aims to tackle the issue of period poverty – many people who need to use these products cannot afford them.

The Northern British Columbia Graduate Student Society has been advocating for UNBC to provide free menstrual products in all of its washrooms, but the project still has a little ways to go.

“Period poverty is a real thing, students will often have to choose between buying groceries or buying menstrual products. Sometimes they can’t afford them so they will use whatever they have around them like socks or rolled-up tissue paper,” said Abby Dooks, director of relations at the NBCGSS.

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“It’s embarrassing. It decreases confidence. Students have missed classes, they haven’t come to school because of this and it’s affecting education.”

Dooks reached out to the Prince George Public Research Group and the Northern Women’s Centre to collaborate.

It started with a social media campaign, but it soon gained traction after Interim UNBC President Doctor Geoff Payne took notice.

“He was really interested in the initiative, he welcomed it with open arms and said let’s look into this,” explained Dooks.

Now, she says it’s really just a matter of logistics.

In May of 2019, the BC Government passed legislation requiring provincial high schools to provide free menstrual supplies, so Payne reached out to the local school board to discuss how it was done.

“If you look at public spaces, toilet paper is provided freely because sanitation is a basic human right. So why should that not be extended to menstrual products?” questioned Dooks.

Elsewhere in the region, Valemount Village Council will be offering free condoms and menstrual products in public facilities.

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It has also endorsed free prescription birth control.

Two motions were passed at a meeting last month, allocating about $1,555 of the 2021 budget towards offering menstrual supplies and condoms in public bathrooms.

In the second motion, Valemount Council agreed to send a letter to the BC Government calling for universal prescription contraceptive coverage through the BC Medical Services Plan, at no charge to the public.

Valemount is the 14th municipality to individually endorse universal, no-cost coverage of prescription contraception in the province and the first in Northern BC.

The Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) passed two resolutions supporting this policy at their recent 2020 Convention.

According to Access BC, a campaign calling for universal contraception prescription coverage, an IUD can cost $75 to $380, birth control pills can cost $20 per month, and hormone injections as much as $180 per year.

Prince George City Council has been made aware of Valemount’s recent initiative.

“The benefits for this are obvious, and if the entire nation of Scotland can do this, and the New Westminster School Board, there’s no reason why we should not look into this too,” said Councillor Garth Frizzell.

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“I started asking around at the city, and it wasn’t a case of yes or no, it was a case of this not being considered before. It’s time to pursue this. It’s about time.”

Frizzell says City Administration is now looking into the history of the initiative and what the financial impacts would be.

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