Canada's Period equity activists.
In November 2020, toward the end of a challenging first year of a global pandemic, was one win for people everywhere who menstruate: Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products universally available.
This signalled, among other things, the acknowledgment that period health is, well, health. There’s no reason people who bleed shouldn’t have access to period products the same way we have access to toilet paper.
And while things are changing in Canada—one campus and city at a time—we still have a long way to go to achieving menstrual equity. A third of individuals under 25 struggle to afford period products, with many having to choose between buying food or buying a pad or tampon. This results in what we know today as period poverty: the lack of access to period products, menstrual education, and facilities like washrooms.
Thankfully, there are individuals across the country working toward making periods more equitable for everyone who bleeds. Over the next few months, we’re excited to interview Canadians who are fighting period poverty in Canada. Let’s meet our first five Canadian period equity activists.
1. Yanique Brandford, Founder, Help A Girl Out
Yanique Brandford, a biomedical physics student at Ryerson University, is also the founder of Help A Girl Out, a non-profit raising awareness around period poverty while making period products accessible in Canada, Jamaica, and other countries around the world. She is also the first recipient of Canada’s Hero Award, a category of the Global Citizen Prize 2020 that honours individuals across the globe for their work in fighting extreme poverty.
The one thing driving me to fight against period poverty is... “My own personal experience with period poverty as a low-income student in both Jamaica and Canada. I'd like to change that narrative for other girls in the same situation.”
One thing anyone can do today to fight period poverty is... “To reach out to your network of officials to bring about free menstrual products in their institutions, schools, workplaces, etc. Or donate to your local period poverty organization and Help A Girl Out!”
2. Deyvika Srinivasa, Policy Coordinator, Free Periods Canada
A second-year UBC student studying global health, Deyvika Srinivasa describes herself as someone passionate about menstrual health and equity, and is certain a period equity activist. One of the things she did when the lockdown started was to look into period product access for individuals in Vancouver who needed them and, when the supply was plenty but the access was low, reached out to local city officials to see what could be done. (This in part led to a pilot project making period products accessible in washroom trailers around the city.) Today she is the policy coordinator for Free Periods Canada, a Vancouver-based non-profit working to make period products more accessible, while researching solutions and connecting menstrual equity advocates across the country.
The one thing driving me to fight against period poverty is... “That everybody deserves to feel safe and comfortable in their body.”
One thing anyone can do today to fight period poverty is... “To identify and unpack your own learned menstrual stigma, whether it's whispering about stains on your jeans or how you feel about period sex or whether you would ask a male friend to buy you a tampon. I think like a lot of that stigma is at the root of the economic side of period poverty, which is why, personally, I prefer discussions about ‘menstrual equity’. The phrase ‘period poverty’, I think, paints periods as something to be managed and concealed, and almost takes the agency away from the menstruator. I think it's interesting to have both, but to talk [more] about menstrual equity in terms of the fact that learned stigma is at the root of so many barriers to product access, and it’s the basis for a lot of these symptomatic issues that people focus on.”
3. A.J. Lowik, Trans Reproductive Health Researcher
A.J. Lowik’s work around period equity takes many forms. A PhD candidate, researcher, instructor, and inclusion consultant, their work on trans reproductive health has been featured in the International Journal of Transgender Health and the ‘Menstruation at the Margins’ event hosted by the Switzerland-based Brocher Foundation, among others, making them a prominent period equity activist. They’ve also facilitated workshops on creating gender-inclusive menstruation movements, conducted lectures on the experiences of trans and non-binary people with menstruation, and served as a guest on podcasts and radio shows. One of the things Lowik wishes more people knew about when it comes to period equity? Working toward it is simpler than we think. “The things that people are already doing to eliminate period poverty are relevant to trans and non-binary people. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. You just have to slightly open the scope of your focus to include more folks than you were including before.”
The one thing driving me to fight against period poverty is... “Its interconnectedness with all other kinds of poverty and inequity—that it’s one manifestation of a broader structural inequity system that I would like to push against.”
One thing anyone can do today to fight period poverty is... “Recognize that trans and non-binary people are folks who are struggling with period poverty. So when designing an intervention or an activist effort, or organizing a protest, remember that trans and non-binary people are there and could benefit from your activist attention.”
4. Rachel Ettinger, Founder, Here for Her
Former radio show host Rachel Ettinger was part of the effort that made London, Ontario the first municipality in Canada to provide free period products in public spaces. She’s also the founder of the social enterprise Here for Her, which works to end stigma around period health, for women as well as individuals who identify as trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming. Here for Her also advocates for period health on a policy level, making her a period equity activist.
The one thing driving me to fight against period poverty is... “that menstruation is a health issue and an equity issue. Employers, municipalities, schools, and leaders in different levels of government need to understand how menstrual products are not any different than toilet paper—they are necessary items that must be provided for free in washrooms, period. Once we have more awareness, education, and understanding around menstruation, policies will change and products will become more accessible for people who menstruate.”
One thing anyone can do today to fight period poverty is... “So many things! Discuss menstruation in your networks (friends, peers, families, etc). Hold a drive or donation at your workplace or school for a local women's shelter or food bank. Find an organization for support on how to build a proposal or have these conversations. Chat with your local MPs/councillors about starting menstrual equity initiatives in your area. There are so many things, including easy ones such as retweeting/sharing helpful resources on social media about this issue!”
5. Meghan White & Lauren Cauchy, Founders, Period Packs
Social entrepreneur and business student Meghan White, and market researcher Lauren Cauchy are the founders of Period Packs, an Ottawa-based non-profit that distributes free period products every month to more than 400 individuals in the city, while advocating for education and policy reforms around period health. They also lead a youth advisory committee, mentoring young individuals who wish to work in social justice and period equity, and have more recently been working with the City of Ottawa to continue making period products accessible during the pandemic.
The one thing driving me to fight against period poverty is... “This is a complex question, but if we had to choose one big thing that drives us, it’s the opportunities menstruators miss out on when they do not have access to period products—especially missing school!”
One thing anyone can do today to fight period poverty is... “Talk openly about periods! Have open and honest conversations about the plight of menstruators, your experiences as a person who menstruates, or as an ally. These conversations are critical to breaking down harmful stigma and giving our communities a fighting chance at addressing the root of the issue. We can't solve problems we don't talk about or acknowledge!”
Note: joni recognizes that terms like "people with periods", "menstruators", or "people who bleed" are new to many and might feel odd to say. We encourage you to use terminology that feels right and is also inclusive to everyone who menstruates. Here's more information on why gender inclusive language matters in this industry.