Period Poverty in Indigenous Communities
Period poverty is an issue that still affects many Canadians today. Whether it be low access to period care, or the inability to purchase products such as tampons, pads, and menstrual cups, period poverty continues to be a problem. But it seems to be getting a little bit better for people living in certain areas. Cities across Canada are beginning to take notice of the issue of period poverty. Menstrual product accessibility initiatives are starting up in a select few cities, and it’s long, long overdue. But what about remote Indigenous communities? Indigenous communities already suffer from a lack of resources and availability of essential services, so how does it look from the menstruation angle? The short answer: it’s bad.
Did you know that a box of tampons can cost between $16-$45 in some Indigenous communities? That means that one box of tampons can cost up to $45. And that’s in addition to the many other accessibility issues members of these communities face.
The First Nations, Inuit, and Metis people living in these areas already have trouble accessing clean water, health care, food, and transportation. It’s these issues that make the national problem of period poverty that much worse in these areas.
The increased cost of period products likely comes from the cost of transportation to these remote communities. Increased costs of transportation mean items are harder to ship, thus products tend to cost more. This also decreases food security, which compounds the problem of period poverty in these areas.
Well, if disposable period products are so difficult to replenish, the obvious answer seems to be menstrual cups. Menstrual cups are reusable, so they only need to be purchased once. However, cups may not work for everyone. Menstrual cups are still quite expensive (sometimes costing up to $40) and need to be washed. In places where water is hard to come by, an item that needs to be cleaned regularly can cause some issues.
Indigenous Peoples also disproportionately make up the homeless population in Canada. According to one study, 1 out of 15 Indigenous Peoples living in urban centers experience homelessness, unlike the general population which is 1 out of every 128 people.
Homelessness can further limit and discourage the use of menstrual cups due to a lack of water and resources.
“Menstrual cups aren’t the best choice for people who are transient. Access to water is limited, so being able to clean them often isn’t an option. There’s also a learning curve to them. These people have no one to ask and no YouTube to figure it out.” Jana Girdauskas, founder of The Period Purse, told the Toronto Star.
Menstrual cups can also be invasive, which can be uncomfortable for many menstruators. Invasive period care, in general, may not be an option for many Indigenous menstruators, as sexual assault rates for Indigenous women remain high across Canada. In July of 2017, statistics from Canada’s Department of Justice revealed that the self-reported rate of sexual assault against Indigenous women is more than triple that of non-Indigenous women. These high numbers can impact people’s decision to use menstrual products such as cups and tampons. Invasive period care isn’t the right fit for everyone, and it’s important that we leave the decisions about how people care for their period in their hands.
Menstrual product, or food and water?
Access to comfortable period care is a basic human need, not some luxury to be taken advantage of. This callous exploitation puts already marginalized peoples in even worse situations in which they not only have to worry about caring for their period, but also about putting food on the table. The insanely high prices for period products in Indigenous communities can easily put someone in a position where they must choose whether they want to buy the period care option that fits them, or their next meal. Having to decide between period care or food shouldn’t have to be a problem anyone faces.
“When you have everyday expenses, you likely have to choose between food and water, or a period product … and you're not going to want to go to school and go to work if you don't have those products,” says period equity advocate Carly Pistawka to the Prince George Citizen. “That’s what was happening in a lot of communities with a lack of product.”
Missing school or work due to a period is a problem menstruators across Canada face (more than half of women in Canada have missed activities, school, or work because of their period), but this can be an even bigger issue in Indigenous communities where poverty is endemic, and missing a day of work can have a larger negative impact than in other parts of the country.
Periods are normal and healthy, yet period care continues to be an issue across Canada. Period poverty is magnified in Indigenous communities, which already suffer from a myriad of other issues. Opening up conversations about menstruation and period poverty are the first steps in tackling the issue. Tearing down the stigma surrounding menstruation can shed light on the terrible realities many Indigenous menstruators face. Let’s keep working together to make comfortable period care accessible to everyone.