Seneca rolls out free menstrual products
Initiative supports the Red Dot Project
Sept. 26, 2019
It’s that time of the month at Seneca. All 100 female, accessible and gender-neutral washrooms on campus now offer free feminine hygiene products, making Seneca the first and only Canadian postsecondary institution to do so college-wide.
The Sustainable Seneca initiative, which began as a pilot at Peterborough Campus in 2014, has gone full out this fall in support of the Red Dot Project, a registered non-profit that provides women who are experiencing homelessness in Toronto the opportunity to manage their period in a safe and hygienic way.
This latest effort, which meets a number of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, is a collaboration between Sustainable Seneca, the Red Dot Project, Seneca’s hygiene product vendor, the Seneca Student Federation and the Dean of Students Office.
“The more people we talked to about this, the more traction we got,” said Seneca Professor Phillip Jang, Co-founder of the Red Dot Project.
Red Dot Project came about a few years ago when one of Jang’s students in the Social Service Worker (SSW) diploma program told him about the lack of menstrual supplies at a youth shelter.
“It sparked something in my head,” Jang said. “It was something I had never thought about.”
Another year would go by before Jang and a few other SSW students met at a Tim Hortons in Oak Ridges to do something about period poverty. They talked about putting kits together. They began asking family and friends for donations of menstrual supplies.
“Menstruation has stigmas attached to it and people don’t want to say the word ‘period’ or ‘blood,’” Jang said. “When deciding on the name of our organization, we asked ourselves, ‘How do you describe a period?’ And we thought, a period — a punctuation — is a dot.”
Since the birth of the Red Dot Project in 2017, SSW grad Waheeda Ali has been there with the group to help eradicate and raise awareness on the issues encountered by women who are experiencing homelessness. Now working as a support services co-ordinator at the AIDS Committee of York Region, Ali was the winner of last year’s Seneca Cup, the highest award which could be bestowed on a Seneca student.
“It was a learning experience for me at first — I didn’t know much about homelessness and menstruation,” she said. “We live in our own bubbles sometimes and we don’t realize that some people have to choose between buying groceries and menstrual supplies.”
Once a month, Ali, Jang and others can be seen in downtown Toronto, delivering 60 to 70 bags filled with about 40 pieces of products such as pads, tampons, liners, clean underwear and some feel-good snacks like chocolates.
“Working on the Red Dot Project has brought a lot of joy for me. It has been emotional,” Ali said. “Seeing the need and knowing the need is out there, it’s about one’s dignity. It’s not only a woman’s problem.”
For Jang, it was an opportunity to be an ally to the cause.
“Why does there have to be shame tied to menstruation?” he said. “It can be awkward for some even to just hear me talk about it, and as we expand the project with Seneca, it’s about opening that idea to all students to think about the issue, to have the right mindset. There is a need and the reception we’ve been getting has been great.”