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Free feminine hygiene products mark a meaningful change for the Students’ Union

September 13 2017 —

Regardless of what gender someone identifies with, if they are bleeding profusely while in public, they want it to stop. People with vaginas deal with this once a month due to menstruation and often carry feminine hygiene products on them in case their period comes unexpectedly.

Nothing can ruin a perfectly good day as quickly as discovering you need a tampon or a pad, only to realize you forgot to throw some in your backpack. If you call out loudly in a women’s washroom that you need one, a kind soul may be able to help so that you’re not stuck waddling around with toilet paper in your undies all day. But this doesn’t always work, especially for people who is shy, in an empty washroom or in a men’s or gender-neutral washroom without any other vagina-possessing individuals present.

Recently, the University of Calgary Students’ Union scrapped pizza days — events in which the SU gave students free pizza as a means of outreach — in favour of providing free feminine hygiene products in MacHall. This is an excellent decision that deserves praise. Free pizza may have satisfied a few hungry students, but it was far from an essential service. Someone who needs a period product needs it immediately. Feminine hygiene products are a necessity. Pizza days are not.

It took the SU too long to realize this. According to Statistics Canada, female students have made up the majority of the student population on Canadian campuses since 1991 — coincidentally the last time the tampon vending machines in the women’s washrooms were restocked. Of the 22,491 undergraduate students enrolled in the 2014–15 academic year, 12,021 were female. That’s a huge proportion of students and there’s no excuse for why they weren’t being provided for until now.

The SU vice-president student life position isn’t always taken seriously by the  student population. However, they don’t make a full-time salary merely to plan BSD — they’re supposed to ensure that students have a relatively high quality of life, advocate for mental health services and foster the ‘student experience’ that the U of C touts so strongly. For years, candidates for this position have run on joke campaigns with unsubstantial platforms. Current VP student life Hilary Jahelka’s platform was refreshing, as she promised meaningful services that would benefit our campus. So far, she has delivered by providing these feminine hygiene products free of charge.

In the past, the SU has handed out a seemingly never-ending supply of condoms but not the feminine hygiene products that many students also need. The SU funded gimmicky ideas like puppy rooms, pizza days, nap rooms and the extravagance of BSD, instead of a service that is so simple to provide and benefits a majority of the student population directly.

This isn’t to say that the VP student life needs to suck all the fun out of their job. But it shouldn’t be too much to ask for an elected official to plan a fun and safe BSD while also taking their position seriously and realistically evaluating student needs. It shouldn’t have taken this long for the SU to start catering to those on campus who menstruate.

The “VP Party” reputation has become too predominant in recent years. It’s encouraging to see that changing now. Our campus should have been benefiting from these services a long time ago.

Jesse Stilwell, Gauntlet Editorial Board

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