Campaigning for better access to menstrual products in prison

Indigenous women in Northern Ontario are calling for better access to menstrual products for inmates incarcerated at the Kenora District Jail.

Tania Camerona community activist, finally decided to contact the Ministry of the Solicitor General after learning that an inmate was crying because of insufficient access to these products.

Two days after sending a letter to the Solicitor General Michael KerznerOntario Ombudsman and Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa, she was invited to tour the prison with Mr. Mamakwa where she met two dozen inmates.

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Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Northwestern Ontario, Lindsay Martin, believes that if the province cannot provide adequate menstrual products to people who need them, they should not be incarcerated.

Photo: CBC Sarah Law

Delays and complaints

Women told him that not only do they have to request menstrual products from a correctional officer when they need them, but they sometimes have to wait hours to get them.

If a woman asks [un produit menstruel]please give it to her, she doesn’t need it hours later, she needs it now!

A quote from Tania Cameron, community activist

This way of doing things is denounced by Lindsay Martingeneral director of the Company Elizabeth Fry of Northwestern Ontario. She emphasizes that just having to ask [des produits menstruels] creates a strange power dynamic.

Many women reportedly expressed fears of retaliation if they shared their concerns.

[Les agents correctionnels] return after two or three hours with the product […] and people may be bleeding through their clothes.

A quote from Lindsay Martin, Executive Director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Northwestern Ontario

Their condition is then revealed to the entire prison population. At the same time, it also becomes a hygiene problemshe adds.

Inmates also denounce the poor quality of the products distributed: sanitary napkins that are too thin, unsuitable for heavy menstrual flow, or tampons without applicators, which are difficult to use.

Anyone who has their lunar cycle will bleed differently. Sometimes it’s light, sometimes it’s very abundantunderlines Ms Cameron.

Sometimes, [les détenues] will need more towels one day than the next.

She calls for better quality products and better education of correctional officers on the issue.

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CBC wanted to obtain an interview on the issue with Solicitor General Michael Kerzner, but instead received an email from the department’s spokesperson. (Archive photo)

Photo: The Canadian Press / Tijana Martin

Via email, the ministry spokesperson indicates that menstrual products are provided free of charge to inmates as needed during their detention.

The ministry can confirm that Kenora Prison has an adequate supply of menstrual products to ensure inmates have what they need dailyhe continues.

An unworthy situation

Incarcerated women have the option of purchasing their own menstrual products on site, but Cameron points out that not everyone may be able to afford them.

[En tant que] person who grew up in a low-income household […]we didn’t always have access to sanitary napkins when we needed them and it was difficultshe says.

I would not wish this indignity on anyone!

A quote from Tania Cameron, community activist

She would like inmates to receive menstrual underwear. Donors would be ready to make this possibleaccording to her.

In the immediate future, she hopes to put money into the accounts of inmates who request it so that they can buy the products that suit them.

MP Sol Mamakwa, who has campaigned for better detention conditions for indigenous prisoners for many years, recognizes the need to offer better menstrual products in prison settings.

According to Statistics Canada, the incarceration rate of Indigenous women in provincial correctional facilities is 15 times higher than that of non-Indigenous women.

With reporting from CBC’s Sarah Law

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