- Siobhan Kelly
The Ontario Government donates Period Products but neglects Intersectionality
In recent years, the Canadian government has attempted to increase their involvement in humanitarian efforts for women as pressure from the public grows exponentially. This can be accredited to the vast influx of youth-led non-profits, the expanding notion of social media activism, and social justice disparities that are simply becoming too large to ignore. For Doug Ford’s government in Ontario today, that disparity is currently period poverty. In fact, the provincial government announced this year its pledge to donate 6 million menstrual products to Ontario schools each year in a partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart. While this feat can be celebrated, many aspects of this promise are ill-intentioned, driven by political gain, and most importantly, fail to consider the issue of period poverty through an intersectional lens. Specifically, the Ontario government’s recent decision to provide free menstrual products to schools is rooted in neoliberal ideals which, in a misguided attempt to support women, perpetuates transphobic sentiment and undermines the province’s most marginalized and impoverished groups.
To begin, the government uses language in its press release and individual statements that invalidates the trans experience and fails to recognize menstruation as more than just a ‘women’s issue.’ Minister Stephen Lecce commented on the agreement by saying that it will “remove barriers for women and girls” (Ontario Newsroom), defining menstruation as something exclusive to women and denying trans peoples’ existence in the menstrual world. There are fundamental differences between sex and gender, and not everyone identifies with the genitals, and subsequently, the gender they are assigned at birth. Hence, we can understand that not all women menstruate and not all who menstruate are women. For both trans men and trans women, periods can be a source of gender dysphoria: “a distressed state arising from conflict between a person’s gender identity and the sex the person has or was identified as having at birth.” Since menstruation is seen as a symbol of femininity, trans men might feel like ‘less of a man’ on their period while trans women may feel excluded from the circle of womanhood for not menstruating. Therefore, while it may seem to be a prominent first step in addressing period poverty, the widespread promotion of this humanitarian effort in support of solely ‘women and girls’ actively excludes trans people from the conversation. This is especially problematic as big authorities are pushing the gender binary onto impressionable students, consequently discouraging teenagers from exploring their true identity. Not to mention, a provincial policy such as this alienates transgender students and does not account for the social implications queer students will likely face having to access these ‘feminine’ products in school.
Furthermore, Lecce fails to consider intersectionality in this initiative as he completely excludes First Nations school boards from receiving products, putting Indigenous menstruating students at a clear disadvantage. This disparity is due to interjurisdictional neglect1 involving the provincial and federal government over who is responsible for providing free period products in Indigenous schools. The government’s failure to provide accessible health resources to Indigenous peoples is not new, and in fact, the Jordan’s Principle2 was enacted specifically to “ensure First Nations children can access ALL public services normally available to other children on the same terms” (Power and Place 206). So naturally, we can see that Ontario has absolutely failed in this respect, and for Indigenous teenagers living below the poverty line, their economic struggle is only exacerbated by this governmental lapse. It is important to note that poverty levels are abnormally high for Indigenous children, as 40% of youth off-reserve live in poverty and 60% of youth on-reserve are affected by it (Power and Place 520). Taking this into consideration, I begin to wonder if Ontario truly cares about addressing period poverty in their province equitably. Indigenous students attending a federally funded First Nations school are more in need of free menstrual products than their provincially funded peers, seeing as “…provincial systems and laws don’t account for the poverty and the systemic issues that exist already in First Nations communities'' (Power and Place 379). An intersectional approach to this initiative would have led the Ontario government to consider race, socio-economic status, and Jordan’s Principle thoughtfully. To me, this colossal oversight says plenty more about the government’s political agenda than it does combatting period poverty.
In summary, the Ontario government’s humanitarian effort to support the abolishment of period poverty in schools falls short of considering students in the trans community or First Nations students. Instead, the pledge boosts Stephen Lecce’s image in a way that borders on ‘selfie humanitarianism’3 and strengthens the relationship between Doug Ford and the lobbyist supplier of hygiene products, George Weston Ltd. I argue this because, in reality, the donation of 6 million products will only give female students 10 pads per year; this may be just enough to support one monthly cycle and disregards those who do not identify as female. Lecce’s intentions are also skeptical when he says, “…we are helping to build more inclusive schools that empower all girls to have the confidence to succeed” (Ontario Newsroom). Here, he subtly feeds into neoliberal ideas that by handing a girl a pad, all her problems are fixed and she can do anything she sets her mind to. Additionally, he suggests that inaccessible period products are the only barrier to hinder a girl’s success at school, once again neglecting the intersectional systems of oppression that also greatly impact peoples’ lives. While it is exciting to see the efforts of youth-led gender initiatives translating into ‘tangible’ governmental change, we will not see real justice until everyone’s circumstances are taken into account.
1“Interjurisdictional neglect refers to situations in which [Indigenous] groups or individuals might ‘fall through the cracks,’ due to a lack of interjurisdictional cooperation” (Power and Place 561). In this instance, neither the provincial nor federal government is willing to pay to provide free period products for the Ontarian First Nations school boards.
2“Jordan’s Principle, named in memory of Jordan River Ander- son, a Cree boy from Norway House Cree Nation who spent years of his short life in hospital while the federal government and provinces argued over who would pay for his services. Born with multiple disabilities, he was hospitalized from his birth, in 1999, and died in hospital in 2005.” (Power and Place 206)
3“‘Selfie humanitarianism’ is when helping others is intimately connected to entrepreneurial projects of the self.” (Koffman, Ofra, et. al)
Enckson-Scroth, Laura. Trans Bodies, Trans Selves: A Resource for the Transgender Community. Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2014.
“Gender Dysphoria.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gender%20dysphoria#:~:text=Medical%20Definition%20of%20gender%20dysphoria&text=Note%3A%20Gender%20dysphoria%20is%20typically,member%20of%20the%20opposite%20sex.
Koffman, Ofra, et al. “Girl Power and 'Selfie Humanitarianism'.” Taylor & Francis Online, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 19 May 2015, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10304312.2015.1022948.
“Ontario Launches Free Menstrual Products in Schools.” Ontario Newsroom, Government of Ontario, 8 Oct. 2021, news.ontario.ca/en/release/1000941/ontario-launches-free-menstrual-products-in-schools.
“Ontario Students to Get Free Menstrual Products as Part of Deal with Shoppers Drug Mart | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 8 Oct. 2021, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-free-menstrual-products-shoppers-period-poverty-1.6204580.
Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Vol. 1a, National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2019.