Pilot project puts free menstrual hygiene products in washrooms on McMaster’s campus

Neha Dhanvanthry with her hands on a push cart that has white plastic bags containing menstrual hygiene products on it.

Fourth-year life sciences student Neha Dhanvanthry delivers menstrual hygiene products to different buildings on McMaster’s campus as part of her role as a project support assistant with the McMaster Period Equity Project. (Photo by Matt Clarke/McMaster University).

For Neha Dhanvanthry, having access to menstrual hygiene products while on campus comes down to equity.

“We get toilet paper and soap in our washrooms, can’t we also be provided these?” says the fourth-year life sciences student. “They are things that people need to support their health and well-being on campus.”

Dhanvanthry is a project support assistant with the McMaster Period Equity Project, which aims to provide free pads and tampons to students, staff and faculty through bins and dispensers in select washrooms on McMaster’s main campus.

“The main objective [of the project] was to promote menstrual equity and recognize that menstrual products should not be a luxury. They are a necessity,” says Dhanvanthry.

The initiative, which is still in a pilot stage, was launched in January 2023 by the McMaster Okanagan Committee. The hope is to add more locations, including more residence buildings, in the Fall 2023 term.

A graphic that reads, 'McMaster Period Equity Project '

In addition to recognizing that menstrual products are integral to supporting health and well-being, the project also aims to address period poverty, or the inability to access menstrual hygiene products due to financial limitations.

In a 2018 Plan International Canada study of 2,000 women, nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of all surveyed, and a third (33 per cent) of women under 25 reported struggling to afford menstrual products for themselves or their dependents.

Eighty-six per cent of respondents also said they have been unprepared when their period started.

“Some students have told us it’s been very helpful,” says Dhanvanthry. “If they forget pads or tampons at home, there are some here and they don’t need to go buy a whole box of them.”

The project has received positive feedback from community members so far, says Dhanvanthry. But incidences of vandalism in some men’s washrooms underscore the need for further education, she says.

“We wanted to make the products were as accessible as possible,” says Dhanvanthry. “There are trans individuals, non-binary individuals or those that identify as men that may menstruate and use the men’s washrooms. Those products should be there for them.”

She says the placement in men’s washrooms was also intended to allow people to take products for their partners, family members and friends — or anyone in need.

“Access to these products benefits everyone,” says Dhanvanthry.

The Period Equity Project is the result of a collaborative effort from several departments at McMaster. The program is led by the McMaster Okanagan Administrative office in partnership with Housing & Conference Services, McMaster Students Union, the Student Wellness Centre, Thode and Mills Library, Health Sciences Library, Athletics & Recreation, Student Health Education Centre (SHEC), DeGroote School of Business and McMaster Golden Z.

Related Stories