What Is Period Poverty + How Can We Defeat It In Canada?

May 27, 2024

In a survey conducted in April 2023 by Plan Canada, one-quarter of Canadian women who menstruate said they have had to choose between purchasing menstrual products and purchasing other essential items like food or rent. To bring awareness of period poverty across Western Canada and in honour of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, London Drugs has partnered with brands like Natracare, a leading provider of plastic-free period products made with certified organic cotton, to provide period products to young women and other people who menstruate, in need. From May 31 to June 30, 2024 purchase any qualifying feminine hygiene product from a participating London Drugs location and a donation will be made to combat period poverty. We chatted with Susie Hewson, founder and CEO of Natracare, to learn more about menstrual equity and menstrual health. —Noa Nichol

With Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th bringing attention to period poverty, how do you see Natracare’s role in addressing this issue, particularly in Western Canada? 

Natracare has been donating period products to food banks and women’s support groups quietly for many years, not for any brand recognition but because I have always felt it was the right thing to do. Having to choose between purchasing essential menstrual products or other essential items should not be a choice menstruators should have to consider, yet increasingly this seems to be a serious concern.  Plan Canada’s survey in April 2023 reported this affects one in four Canadian women. Lending support where we can either directly or by supporting recognized charitable organizations tackling period poverty, provides opportunities for awareness and conversations about this very real problem, and therefore helps drive change.

Can you tell us more about Natracare’s partnership with London Drugs for the Wellness Period program and how it contributes to combating period poverty?

Now in its third year, The London Drugs Menstrual Wellness program is an initiative created to help spread awareness of period poverty, an issue that many Canadian women are facing daily. To help fight period poverty London Drugs has offered a promotion whereby purchases from our participating range of menstrual products are matched with a donation from our brand partners. These donations are then spread to our community partners and dispersed among the women that need it. Natracare has fully supported  London Drugs each year with this program in the hope that their participation lends to the success and awareness of period poverty here in Canada.  The donations will go to: BC – the United Way and Mamas for Mama, AB – Mamas for Mamas and Bent Arrow, MB- YMCA, and SK – YMCA

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in advocating for menstrual health and equity, and how have you overcome them?

Natracare has been donating sanitary products to food banks and women’s support groups for many years to help eradicate period poverty and we have worked with WEN (Women’s Environmental Network) and City to Sea on their period education schemes – raising awareness of hidden plastics in period products and promoting organic options.  We constantly work with non-profit partners around the globe that reflect our ethos and our pillars. 

Natracare is known for its plastic-free and organic products. Why is it important to you to maintain these standards, and what impact do you believe they have on users and the environment?

The ethical positioning and integrity to the specifications of the raw materials that Natracare uses can in some part be attributed to the leading position the Natracare brand holds today.   We continually strive  to set the bar in environmental standards and achieved this  in 2008 when we became the world’s first period care brand to achieve an International Environmental Product Declaration (EPD –, a scientifically validated and independently accredited life cycle analysis, which offers comparable information regarding the environmental performance of a product from cradle to cradle and an acknowledgement of its carbon footprint I am an environmental campaigner, on a mission to challenge the unchecked, ecological damage of market entrenched period product manufacturers, to tell the true supply chain story and offer a quality, honest alternative.  The integrity of organic agriculture and Global Organic Standards (GOTS) is critical to uphold the gold standard I have designed Natracare tampons to attain.  

Natracare evolved out of my own campaigns against the use of toxic chemicals, synthetics, and plastics as well as bringing to light their role in women’s health problems. My brand of activism has always been about empowering people to make the right choices for their bodies and creating better outcomes for ecology, and that requires both education and validation. At the same time, my work has helped create global standards for organic and natural menstrual products. This sort of change paves the way for others, which in turn, helps to create shifts within the industry. It’s work I am very proud of.

The recent survey by Plan Canada highlights that one-quarter of Canadian women had to choose between menstrual products and other essentials. How does this statistic influence Natracare’s approach to product accessibility and affordability?

Period poverty is on the increase and deeply entrenched in our society, much of which is unseen and unspoken about.  As a global issue it is important  to have conversations about the causes of this and only in this way can we help address it.  And there has been some traction to help.  In 2015 the Canadian government dropped the GST on period products and this year, the French government announced that reusable period products would be free for people under the age of 25. Continuing these conversations and supporting campaign are things that can help tackle period poverty. 

Looking forward, what are Natracare’s goals for the next few years in terms of product development and advocacy?

I am continually pushing ideas and seeking potential developments in some unlikely scenarios! Sustainable and functional materials are my forte, but much of the R & D time is in validation and testing.    Our support and partnerships with charities and organizations that make a real difference is part of who we are and what we do.  We don’t see any point in success unless we are doing good in the world!


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