It’s too late to affect their final grades but the students in Meghan Leslie’s Social Justice 12 class last school year are celebrating a victory this week.
The city of Coquitlam is moving ahead with a pilot program to install menstrual product dispensers in washrooms at a handful of civic facilities, an initiative brought forward by the Dr. Charles Best secondary students earlier this year.
Leslie said the move shows the impact young people can have when they engage with their elected officials.
"I am beyond elated that this is happening," she told The Tri-City News Wednesday. "I really appreciate council being so receptive."
Last May, a trio of Leslie’s students — Jim Liu, Dajeong Kim and Ellen Mee — spoke to council to ask the city to consider making it mandatory for pads and tampons to be free and available in restrooms at parks, recreation centres and other civic facilities. They argued that menstrual products are just as important as water, soap, towels and toilet paper, and should be included to meet women’s sanitary needs.
"If they were readily available in washrooms, women would be more comfortable," Mee said at the time. "It’s a health issue."
The initiative followed a similar move to place free menstrual products in all B.C. schools.
Leslie said the students were initially intimidated to approach their elected officials, believing that no one would listen to "just a bunch of teenagers."
"It is really awesome to have a real-world, real-time example that they do have power," she said. "They do have the ability to evoke change."
According to a staff report, the city will launch a four-month pilot program in October in washrooms at Town Centre Park, Mundy Park, the City Centre Aquatic Complex, the Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex and Pinetree community centre. The city will gather data and feedback from the study and present it to council in the new year for consideration of a broader rollout to the rest of the municipality’s 72 women’s and universal washrooms.
The pilot program is expected to cost $20,000 for installation of the dispensers and their ongoing replenishment. If council decides to expand the program in the new year, staff said it will cost $35,000 to install the additional dispensers and an estimated $25,000 in annual maintenance and service.
Leslie told The Tri-City News that the idea of campaigning for free menstrual products grew out of concerns that they weren’t widely available in schools. She started placing products in baskets around Best secondary, with notes in girls’ washrooms letting them know they were available.
The students said concerns about costly menstrual products being a barrier to women’s full participation in work and community life prompted them to start their letter-writing campaign last spring.
Leslie said the students’ success at getting council to move forward with their initiative is something they will be able to look on with pride in the years to come.
"When they go to the washroom at the pool or the library, they can be like, 'I did that,'" she said. "It is something to be proud of."