Menstrual Kits for Homeless Women in Toronto: Our First Program in Canada

The heart of our work is found in that place where environmentalism and feminism meet. And the way that we get our work done is through partnership – as our name would imply.

Partnership to us is connection and intentional, roll-your-sleeves-up collaboration. It is partnership between women and their own bodies. Between people with much to give, and people in need. Between countries, between communities. Between people and Mother Nature herself.

Most often, that has brought us to Cameroon, where our projects have been impacted and our impact has been felt. We have been and continue to be committed to working in this region: because of great need for menstrual health programming, and because of deep connections and knowledge that make our programming appropriate and impactful. Those connections and established partnerships are critical to our existence and relevance.

How serendipitous, then, that after months of discussing working locally at home, a new connection emerged and led to our first Canadian program. Our Board member Sarah McDonald had brought forward the idea of a local-to-us program ages ago, because of the need that exists here in Canada. The Board decided we should explore the idea, and we’ve been since doing outreach and evaluating the right way to make an impact.

Executive Director Irene Whittaker-Cumming speaking at Syzygy Toronto in May 2017.

Executive Director Irene Whittaker-Cumming speaking at Syzygy Toronto in May 2017.

Fast forward to this past May. I was speaking at an event in Toronto hosted by Syzygy, an exciting collective that brings together women in community. They talk about a “union of opposites”, and that’s what emerged when I met another woman who is well-versed and active in homelessness efforts in Toronto. Between her locality and my expertise in international work, we were indeed a union of opposites.

This union led to Mother Nature Partnership’s first Canadian program, which came to life in October.

We were compelled to work here in Canada because we are grounded in a feminist approach that is about intersections and connection, and one that firmly rejects patriarchal dichotomies (such as man versus woman, human versus animal, and so forth). This false story we’ve all been told of “here versus there” in regards to international development versus “our own backyard” diminishes compassion, and the natural impulse of people to feel a shared humanity.

Guests line up for hours to access the services under one roof at Homeless Connect Toronto.

Guests line up for hours to access the services under one roof at Homeless Connect Toronto.

Shared humanity tells us that the need exists here in Canada. The stats tell us the same thing. In 2016, 27% of Canada’s homeless population was made up of women. And that doesn’t include the hidden populations of women that experts suspect exist, but aren’t counted because they live in precarious or temporary conditions. For women who menstruate, getting their period each month can be an additional hardship that leaves them searching for free supplies or using makeshift materials. (Interested in more info? Read about it in the Toronto Star and VICE.)

Menstrual Kits

We were providing – big surprise – menstrual supplies and resources! We met hundreds of women, and provided 100 women with menstrual kits that included a choice of reusable menstrual cups or environmentally-friendly disposable pads or tampons, new underwear, and helpful resources. Our resources included a selection of handouts with information on menstruation, and the use and care of menstrual cups.

Menstrual Kits with contentsWe also developed and circulated an original MNP resource on where to access free menstrual supplies at Toronto shelters and drop-ins – to our knowledge, this doesn’t exist yet in one central resource, and we are proud to have researched and created it. We had in-depth conversations with guests about feminism, about taboos around menstruation, and about their lived experiences.

As is our way, we made new connections with shelters and drop-ins who loved our work and expressed need for a Mother Nature Partnership program with the women they serve. (Stay tuned for exciting developments!)

Board Member Jessica RileyI left the day with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. For the women we interacted with, for the serendipitous syzygetic connection that led to this day, for the opportunity to do such rewarding and powerful work. Women experiencing homeless expressed joy at the offering of free underwear, often asking for an extra pair. They shared their need for menstrual supplies and their gratitude for the offering. Often, women took a kit for their daughter or friend. The menstrual cup was particularly enticing to our guests, and this reinforces our conviction in reusable menstrual supplies as an accessible and earth-friendly solution.

Every. Single. Menstrual. Kit. Found a home.

Of course, there is more need – and there are more solutions. We have some of those solutions, and need help to provide them. You can be a part of it by donating directly to our work to make it a reality. We are small and mighty, and as a volunteer-run organization all funds go straight to the impact. As a donor, you can choose whether the funds go directly to our Cameroon or Canada program – or to greatest need.

Because regardless of “here or there”, we can rise above that narrative. Instead we can focus on our shared humanity, and the partnerships that make good things transpire where injustice once stood.

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