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The ME Project: Interview with Joy Liu

Joy Liu (she/her) is a senior student at Colonel By Secondary School in Ottawa, Ontario, interested in studying political science and economics in her post-secondary education. Liu is also the student trustee of the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), alongside Charles Chen.

Every year, two student trustees from Ottawa high schools are responsible for representing 75,000 OCDSB students on the Board of Trustees. “Our job is to provide student voice on school board affairs; we contribute to issues, policies, and initiatives that take place at the board-level,” Liu says when asked to describe her role. The pair are also the chairs of the Student Senate, the official “25-member committee representing secondary students to the school board.”

I got the opportunity to speak to her about her experience as a trustee and a recent initiative that the pair have been working on called the “ME project.”

ME Project: What is it?

The ME project was a campaign to offer free period products in all school washrooms. “ME” stands for “menstrual equity,” which Liu described as “an issue that affects tens of thousands of students at our school board.” She goes on to explain that there are many students who “had to leave school early, miss class, or use toilet paper as a substitute when they didn’t have access to period products at school,” which is an unfair consequence to an uncontrollable biological function. With the motion passed by the ME project, period products and disposal units will now be placed in all washrooms—including female, male, and gender-neutral spaces—guidance departments or student services, and physical education departments. The motion also requested “the OCDSB provide education to students on how to use and dispose of period products,” which was not currently covered by the Ontario health curriculum.

Motivation and Feedback

In the 2019-2020 school year, former student trustees Ganaaboute Gagne and Prasith Wijeweera piloted research and consultation with OCDSB students regarding the idea of placing period products in school washrooms. Liu also stated that many other student trustees in Ontario boards were acting similarly.

“Before we began our term in August, we knew instinctively that this was work we wanted to carry through in our term, given the sheer impact it would have,” she explains.

“After drafting a first version of the motion in November, we circulated the draft for feedback from the OCDSB Student Senate, school GSAs, the superintendent of facilities and CFO, the OCDSB Advisory Committee in Equity, senior staff, and the Board of Trustees. There were many, many different revisions made during this process,” she goes on to explain, proving how many steps there are to passing a motion like this.

After the draft of the motion had been completed, the two trustees launched the support campaign on social media. Through the collective online efforts of OCDSB students, their letter was signed by 1400 individuals and backed by dozens of stories and comments!

Liu emphasizes that the support they received from students was essential. Not only did students demonstrate their unity through signatures and testimonies, but certain students also made delegations to the board meeting, where the motion was unanimously passed.

She also mentioned a collaboration with a local charity—Period Packs Ottawa—who provided a solid platform for raising even more awareness.

While the student response was “overwhelmingly positive,” they did sometimes receive negative comments. “We treated those comments as concerns by responding charitably, and provided additional context to respond to the criticism (e.g. that the period products weren’t needed in male washrooms),” Liu says as she describes their approach to tackling such obstacles.

“Otherwise, all the other stakeholders we consulted were wholly supportive. The Board of Trustees passed our motion unanimously, and Trustee Lyra Evans moved the motion to debate on our behalf. Since the motion has passed, the ME Project has received so much positive support.” One notable supporter is the CEO of DivaCup, Carinne Chambers-Saini, who sent out congratulations online.

Next Steps

When I asked what she hoped this change would bring to other boards, Liu describes, “We hope that this change catalyzes other school boards to pass similar motions or policies as soon as possible. It’s 2021! Menstrual equity doesn’t belong at the bottom of a board’s to-do list. We also hope that other student trustees are inspired by the success of the ME Project to advocate for menstrual equity at their own boards.”

Something unique to the ME project is the implementation of period products in male washrooms, not just female and gender-neutral washrooms, to ensure that regardless of gender identity, students can still feel comfortable using washrooms.

The OCDSB student trustees call upon all boards to:

  • “Place free period products in their school washrooms, including in male washrooms” and

  • “Implement a thorough student and community consultation framework during the implementation process of such a policy.”

Liu continues to justify the necessity of the movement: “Period products are as essential as toilet paper and soap when it comes to health and hygiene. Without period products, people can’t participate in their daily lives. You wouldn’t be expected to bring your own toilet paper to school or work, right?”

Other forms of support

Liu states that even as a regular student, you can still advocate for period product accessibility within your own school board or launch a school washroom pilot at your own school. “Some elementary schools in the OCDSB have begun pilots under the leadership of students,” she supports her point.

Outside of school, she also claims, “If you belong to a club or organization, you can advocate that they provide free period products at their events. There are also so many different menstrual equity movements led by young people like Period Packs Ottawa and Bleed The North that students can get involved in.”

Closing remarks

Thank you, Joy, for sitting down with me and discussing such an important and progressing topic. I congratulate Joy and Charles for the excellent work, in addition to those who supported the motion and helped it pass—including students and other trustees.

The ME project is an excellent step in the right direction for the menstrual equity movement, but there are still bounds to be made when it comes to the stigma surrounding periods/period products and achieving menstrual equity across the province.

Like Joy, I hope sharing this story is one way to encourage the next few steps.

Featured image is courtesy of Karolina Grabowska via Pexels.

Article Author: Linda Duong

Article Editors: Valerie Shirobokov, Victoria Huang