Windsor-Essex Catholic student trustee Jada Malott, left, has been pushing feminine hygiene equity for the school board and beyond. Photo courtesy Malott family

Father-daughter battle period poverty

  • October 23, 2021

For the past five years Jada Malott and her dad Mike have been at the forefront of feminine hygiene advocacy in Windsor, Ont.

A Grade 12 student at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School, Malott is serving her second year as student trustee in the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board where she has made the issue one of her top priorities.

Earlier this year she crafted a motion with the help of trustee Kim Bouchard and the support of her dad, directing administration to install pad and tampon dispensers in every elementary and secondary school at no cost. Her motion was approved.

For some students who menstruate, the cost of menstrual products is a barrier to access — a challenge known as period poverty — causing them to sometimes make the difficult decision to skip school.

“The last thing that I would have ever thought we would be needing to collect for our community is feminine hygiene product,” said the 17-year-old Malott, who was around 12 when the family became involved with the initiative. “I asked my dad how come we have to collect these products and why they go to the food bank? If it has to deal with personal hygiene, like wouldn’t that be free? … There’s so much stigma that surrounds periods that really prevents these conversations from happening.”

The Ontario government has announced a partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart to supply elementary and high schools in all 72 school districts with the menstruation products for the next three years. A total of 18 million products and 1,200 dispensers will be made available to students, with Shoppers picking up the entire tab.

Malott, who says she was raised to speak up for those in need, believes this victory signifies a real watershed moment in Ontario in the movement towards equality.

“It’s normal for us to talk about equity and equality at the dinner table, that’s the kind of family we are,” she said. “I’ve always been very driven by that. I realized period poverty was an equality issue in our schools. If women can’t access the products that they need to maintain their period, they really have no choice but to resort to other ways to manage their period like using toilet paper, socks, clothes and that presents a real issue in our communities.”

Malott and her father first got involved in period advocacy when Mike was co-hosting a FM radio show called All in a Day’s Work where he would invite people of various vocations on to talk about what they do. During an episode with the United Way, he learned that menstrual hygiene products are one of the most requested yet least donated items. The radio show ended up partnering with the organization for their Tampon Tuesday campaign to collect the items for food banks, local shelters, college campuses and other places of need.

Mike was raised by parents who were labour leaders — his mother was the president of the Ontario Nurses Association local in Windsor and his dad was a shop floor union representative. He was shocked to learn of his own mother’s struggles as a teenage mom with period poverty.

“After we had the show on Tampon Tuesday, I asked my mom out for lunch,” he said.

“We see all those commercials saying that people shouldn’t have to sacrifice food to pay their hydro bill or gas bill. As much as I’m an activist sometimes I think they over exaggerate things to scare people. So, I asked my mom, I said, ‘I know we didn’t have a lot of money, I know you were on welfare and you had two kids to clothe and feed but did you ever sacrifice feminine hygiene products for more food? If you only had $40 to spend on groceries and you were over, what was the first thing that came off the conveyor belt?’ She just looked at me and she said, ‘Mike, the pads and tampons and the hair shampoo, all that stuff came off first.’ I was absolutely mortified when she told me this.”

As a husband and father of three, including two young daughters, he easily inspired the family to get involved. Through the reach of the radio show and reaching out to community partners, people and organizations began contributing menstrual products and funds. People also started donating items to raffle off, and local stores offered incentives for customer support of the initiative. Labour unions alone donated $6,000 to buy products. In their first year they collected $9,700 and were able to fill two minivans.

For Malott and her dad, the quest for period equality is not over. They approached Windsor city council earlier this year and a recommendation will be made to the city to begin a six-month pilot project to expand the availablity of the products beyond schools.

“It means the world to me to have my dad’s support,” said Malott. “My dad is like my partner in crime when it comes to social justice, I am completely inspired by him. He always said, ‘If you want to be a world-class city, you have to make world-class moves.’ ”

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