TORONTO - The Toronto District School Board will be providing free menstrual products to students in elementary and secondary schools this year to address what one trustee called "period poverty."
Two of the school board's trustees who put forward the motion said it passed unanimously at a meeting on Wednesday.
"It felt like a strong signal to all students in the system that the board of trustees is unanimous in our care for their health and well-being," said Stephanie Donaldson, who led the initiative alongside Harpreet Gill.
Donaldson said she hopes the move will help combat a lack of access to menstrual products.
"Period poverty is an access issue and an equity issue," she said.
Through her research on the matter, Donaldson said she discovered that some Canadian girls miss class because they can't afford period products, calling it a "barrier" to education.
She said the board plans on partnering with Physical and Health Education Canada — a charitable organization — to provide the products at no charge.
Donaldson also hopes the initiative will address stigma around menstruation.
"It should not be something that we should be ashamed of," she said. "It's just something that we do, it is something very natural and it's something everyone woman does."
TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird said the board will be working on the specifics of how to roll out the initiative, but it plans to provide the products some time this fall starting with students in Grades 7 to 12.
The TDSB is one of several school boards in Ontario that plan to provide period products to students this school year.
In May, the Waterloo Region District School Board announced that products such as pads and tampons would be available in all schools and alternative education centres.
British Columbia was the first province to provide free menstrual products to students in public schools earlier this year.
Marit Stiles, an NDP member of the provincial legislature, tabled a motion in June asking the Ontario government to ensure every school board provides period products to students. Stiles said she hopes her motion moves forward when the legislature resumes in the fall and that the Progressive Conservatives agree to take on some of the cost associated with it.
"It sends an important message that the Ontario government is willing to help shoulder some of the cost with that," said Stiles. "We have to make those products as accessible as toilet paper."