Vancouver School District mulls free tampon dispensers

East Vancouver’s Selina Tribe wants tampons and pads at public institutions across Canada

Selina Tribe is the self-described queen of pad power.

The East Vancouver resident is championing calls for free tampons and pad dispensers in schools across B.C., but that’s merely step one.

From there, she wants every public institution — shelters, community centres and even jails — across Canada to provide feminine hygiene products free of charge.

Tribe’s efforts have so far begun east of Vancouver, as school districts in Burnaby and New West have heard her pitch and responded favourably.

“I intend to go everywhere and beyond but it takes time,” Tribe told the Courier. “If [presenting across B.C.] is what it takes, I’m willing to do that in theory.”

A geology instructor at Douglas College, Tribe took it upon herself to install a coin-free dispenser at her daughter’s school, Sir John Franklin elementary, in September. Tribe says she did so in concert with the school’s PAC and principal. The agreement sees Tribe pay all the up-front costs, which she’s then reimbursed for. The school’s principal has committed to stocking the dispensers after September 2019.

Selina Tribe provided this cost estimate breakdown to school trustees in New Wesminster in early January.

A handful of post-secondary institutions across Canada have similar machines, including Centennial College, Humber College and McGill University. Last year Scotland became the first county in the world to provide female hygiene products to students for free.

Currently, there are no coin-operated vending machines in VSB schools.

“Generally students go the office/nurse station/counsellor for tampons and pads,” a VSB spokesperson told the Courier via email.

That’s a problem for Tribe, who says there’s shame and embarrassment to be found in such a process.

Not only that, but Tribe says installing the dispensers is about equality, convenience and removing barriers for low-income students.

“[Urinals] aren’t medically necessary, they’re not requirements, they’re pure convenience,” Tribe said. “I don’t begrudge [men] over the convenience, but we need convenience as well. The girls need convenience as well.”

Tribe has sourced out a brand of dispenser from the U.S.-based company Hospeco that she says costs $300 and will last upwards of 10 years. Re-stocking and installation costs will inevitably vary from school to school based on student population and the number of washrooms.

In presenting to the New Westminster school board two weeks ago, Tribe said installing the machines and one year’s worth supplies would cost $5,600 at New Westminster secondary.

Vancouver has 18 high schools and 91 elementary schools. Tribe estimates that in the case of Templeton secondary, $4,000 would be needed to get the project started. Of that figure, $3,200 would be for one-time purchase costs and installation.

“On a school board basis, yes, the number looks a little bit daunting,” Tribe said. “But I would suggest, how much does it cost to put urinals in all the boys’ bathrooms? That is many, many times more [expensive] and those are all installed.”

Vancouver School Board chair Janet Fraser has spoken with Tribe about the proposal, but next steps weren’t discussed. The initiative may require board approval or be adopted as an operational matter.

Should the proposal move ahead in Vancouver, Fraser’s preference is to have a uniform, district-wide policy rather than individual schools or PACs head up their own plans.

“Things happen in society that you take for granted,” Fraser said. “Toilet paper is provided and tampons and pads aren’t and you just accept that as normal. And then someone comes along and says ‘hey wait a minute.’ And you realize that makes a lot of sense and so you look at it from an equity lens between boys and girls.” 

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