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Access to Menstrual Products in Federally Regulated Prisons in Canada 

May 30, 2024


Hannah Belec

By: Hannah Belec (she/her)

In December 2023, Employment and Social Development Canada announced that federally regulated employers must now provide pads and tampons to all employees in an accessible location at no cost. The press release from December 15th states that “menstruation is a fact of life” and pads and tampons are “basic necessities.”[1] Yet, current access to menstrual hygiene products in other federally regulated institutions, specifically prisons, certainly does not reflect the Canadian government’s apparent acceptance that “menstruation is a fact of life” and that both pads and tampons are “basic necessities.”[2] 

Image of prison, with cell bars and long hallway
Image: iStock Photo

In 2018, Public Safety Canada stated that there were approximately 676 federally incarcerated women.[3] These women make up between 7% and 8% of the total federal offender population and are the fastest-growing federal offender population.[4] For example, despite the total number of federally incarcerated offenders minimally increasing by 0.3% in the past ten years, the number of federally incarcerated women has increased by 20%.[5] Moreover, according to a 2022 study by Corrections Services Canada, there are approximately 21 openly trans-men and 17 individuals who openly identify as gender fluid, gender non-conforming/non-binary, intersex, two-spirited, or unspecified.[6] So, these statistics suggest that there are currently between 700 to 800 federally incarcerated offenders, residing in prisons designated for women and prisons designated for men, who may require menstrual hygiene products at some point during their incarceration, if not regularly – and this number will only continue to increase if the upward trend of federally incarcerated women continues.  

In compliance with the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders, or the Bangkok Rules, Canadian federal prisons provide “facilities and materials required to meet women’s specific hygiene needs, including sanitary towels provided free of charge.”[7] However, some prisons designated for women do not provide tampons free of charge, only pads. For example, in a 2017 report conducted by the Senate on womens’ experience in Canadian prisons, incarcerated women at Joliette Prison in Quebec stated that they had to purchase tampons from the canteen if they wanted them, as they were only provided one kind of sanitary pad.[8] The need to buy tampons is a barrier to menstrual equity in Canadian prisons despite the Canadian government stating that pads and tampons are a basic necessity. 

Even if a Canadian prison provides both tampons and pads free of charge, many inmates complain that they are not provided enough. On average, menstruators use about 3-6 pads or tampons daily, so three tampons may not be enough for one day, depending on an individual’s flow.[9] Yet, one inmate participant in Dr. Martha Paynter’s reproductive justice workshop exclaimed, “Bring a box! Why don’t they bring a box? You ask for tampons, and they bring you three. We don’t want to ask the male staff for tampons.”[10] Another inmate participant stated that it was “degrading” to ask for more menstrual hygiene products.[11] For incarcerated trans-men and non-binary, two-spirit, or intersex offenders who menstruate, their reluctance to ask male or female staff for menstrual hygiene products is likely exacerbated by feelings of fear, shame, and gender dysphoria. So, all federally incarcerated offenders need free and easily accessible pads and tampons, just like federal employees, to ensure their menstrual hygiene needs are addressed, and their dignity or safety is not compromised.  

These economic and gender-specific barriers to menstrual equity in Canadian prisons contradict the government’s assertion that “menstruation is a fact of life” and that both pads and tampons are “basic necessities.”[2] Just like employees of the federal government, all federally incarcerated offenders, in both prisons designated for men and prisons designated for women, need free and easily accessible pads and tampons. This International Women’s Day (March 8th) and Menstrual Hygiene Day (May 28th), let’s advocate for free and accessible menstrual hygiene products in federally regulated prisons alongside federally regulated workplaces – because offenders are humans with rights that must be protected.  




[3] https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/ccrso-2018/ccrso-2018-en.pdf 

[4] https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/state-etat/2021rpt-rap2021/pdf/SOCJS_2020_en.pdf 

[5] https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/state-etat/2021rpt-rap2021/pdf/SOCJS_2020_en.pdf 

[6] https://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2022/scc-csc/PS83-3-442-eng.pdf 


[8] https://sencanada.ca/en/sencaplus/news/life-on-the-inside-human-rights-in-canadas-prisons/ 




May 28th is menstrual hygiene day, and this year, the theme is “Together for a #PeriodFriendlyWorld.”  While this observance was originally framed as menstrual hygiene – we follow the lead of the World Health Organization, who calls for menstrual health to be recognized, framed, and addressed as a human rights issue, not a hygiene issue.  Framing menstruation as such is a reflection of the taboo and stigma around periods. The labelling of period supplies as “feminine hygiene products” is incorrect since as Dr. Jen Gunther explains “needing them is not a sign of being feminine – it’s a sign that you need something to catch blood – and they’re not hygiene products because menstruating is not unhygienic.”

In 2023-2024, the Centre for Human Rights Research at the University of Manitoba has worked on the “Period Poverty & Equity, On Campus and Beyond” project to assess access to period supplies for the University of Manitoba community and to work towards menstrual equity, on campus and in the community. This series of essays is part of the Period Poverty & Equity, On Campus and Beyond project and aims to explore issues of menstrual justice that are often overlooked.

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