Jada Malott is all smiles as the first free menstrual product dispenser is installed at Windsor, Ont.’s St. Joseph’s Catholic High School. Photo courtesy Jada Malott

Student takes menstrual poverty fight national

By 
  • June 11, 2022

Holding her high school’s first free menstrual product dispenser against the washroom wall, period rights activist Jada Malott couldn’t help but get emotional as she watched the facility service person screw in the bolts.

“It was amazing,” said Malott. “I had tears in my eyes because it felt like I was holding the past four years of my activism in my hands. When (the dispenser) was screwed into the wall and we started filling it with (feminine hygiene products) — waterworks.”

Thanks in large part to the advocacy of the Grade 12 activist and trustee Kim Bouchard, menstruating students at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Windsor, Ont., will no longer need to go to the office for feminine hygiene products. Last year, the board of trustees in the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) approved a motion put forward by Malott with Bouchard’s help calling for the installation of dispensers that provide free pads and tampons for all students who need them.

Further installations are scheduled to take place at schools across the board in the coming weeks.

“It’s very exciting to see this is happening,” said Bouchard. “Menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury, and I’m very proud of the fact that our board recognized that.”

A poll in 2020 showed that close to 25 per cent of Canadian women and about 33 per cent of women younger than 25 faced financial hardship in securing menstrual products for themselves or their dependants. This dispenser initiative is about ensuring that every student can come to school and feel dignified, says Malott, whose journey into activism began with the story of her paternal grandmother Karen Bray.

A single teen mom, Bray shared with her children and grandchildren that she often went without menstrual products due to poverty during those years. 

Malott says it’s painful that in a developed nation such as Canada people are still having issues getting a hold of products to take care of bodily functions.  

“My grandmother had to experience opening an empty box of tampons and that story really pulls on your heart strings,” said Malott. “I’m lucky to have never had that experience. It’s  terrible to think that people go through this on a daily basis but no longer in our schools because now we have dispensers.”

Several months after the board approved its original motion, the Ontario Ministry of Education announced it would be providing dispensers and free products for all of the province’s high schools. It’s expected that all high schools and elementary schools in the provinces will be outfitted with dispensers by the end of the school year.

Malott hopes to see the movement expand to provide access to products to students across Canada and eventually the globe. Her goal is to make free period product dispensers available in every public facility in the nation and along with her father and sister, Malott recently launched a non-profit called Period Product Partner, which aims to get dispensers that offer hygiene products at no cost into restaurants, grocery stores and other businesses.

She credits her Catholic upbringing for her drive to support the most vulnerable in society.

“This is kind of my life’s work,” said Malott. “I always try to focus on things that are centred around social justice because I grew up in a Catholic house where we’re always talking about its importance. The first time I heard about the issue it was a no brainer for me to get involved.”

With Bray an important part of the journey, Malott says her grandmother would be very proud to see how far they have come.

“My grandmother would be happy to know that (period poverty) is coming to an end,” said Malott. “It’s such an important step in getting these dispensers in public facilities to ensure that people with periods don’t miss out on their human rights to go to school, or to be social, just because they can’t access the means to manage their menstrual cycle.”

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