The Ford government is partnering with Shoppers Drug Mart to provide Ontario students access to free menstrual products this fall.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement Friday morning and says the pharmacy chain will pick up the cost of menstrual products and dispensers in school washrooms in a three-year deal.

"Menstrual products are of course a necessity, not a luxury. For women and girls, ensuring that they have access to these products is key for their health and success in their education," Lecce said.

Starting in the 2021-22 school year, Shoppers Drug Mart will provide a total of 18 million free menstrual products and 1,200 dispenses to the province over the next three years.

School boards will be responsible in determining which schools the products will be distributed to based on local needs.

The government says it is committed to addressing period poverty and removing barriers surrounding menstruation. 

"No student should have to miss school because they do not have access to menstrual products. This creates a major barrier in providing an equal playing field,"  Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues Jane McKenna said at this morning's announcement.

There have been growing calls for the province to provide free access to menstrual products.

Earlier this year, an organization that is advocating on behalf of Toronto’s youth wrote a letter to Lecce urging the provincial government to offer free menstrual products in all publicly funded schools.

“Menstrual products are a necessity and not a luxury,” the Toronto Youth Cabinet wrote in the letter.

“The simple truth is that, for far too long, we have ignored the issue about menstrual periods, and that silence has hurt our young people. No young person should miss out on their education or feel stigmatized because of something that is a normal part of life for them.”

The letter was also signed by People for Education, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the province’s four major teachers’ unions.

The group noted that other provinces and several Ontario school boards, including the Toronto District School Board, have made a move to provide free access to menstrual products.

The TDSB announced its program in 2019, but in a letter to Lecce back in May, TDSB Chair Alexander Brown requested that the province provide funding for free menstrual products in all schools across Ontario.

Brown noted in the letter that because the TDSB’s program is funded by charitable organizations, products are “not guaranteed to all students who need them.”

“Menstrual hygiene products are not a luxury. They are necessary and essential to menstrual health, comfort and participation in school, work and society,” Brown wrote.

“No student should have to worry about having access to menstrual products.”

- With files from CTV Toronto’s Colin D’Mello