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Tackling period poverty

Ryerson student’s charity fights the stigma around feminine hygiene
By: Will Sloan
October 30, 2018
Help a Girl Out collects care packages of hygiene products for women in need

Photo: Third-year medical physics student Yanique Brandford’s charity Help a Girl Out collects care packages of hygiene products for women in need.

Hygiene. We don’t like to talk about it. We all need to maintain it. Maintaining it costs money. And growing up in Jamaica, Yanique Brandford knew that poverty sometimes means making hard choices.

“We were very poor, so we couldn’t afford certain hygiene products,” says Brandford, a third-year Ryerson medical physics student. “It was a choice—money for food, transportation, clothes, whatever, and hygiene was second. And after we’d spend money on that, there would be no more money left…

“I thought it was just our family, but when I went to school, the other girls were facing similar problems as well—but nobody spoke about it, because there’s so much stigma attached to menstruation and hygiene. You wouldn’t tell your friend, ‘I don’t have deodorant today,’ or, ‘I don’t have toothpaste.’ You wouldn’t share that.”

Brandford is the founder of Help a Girl Out, external link, a non-profit charity that provides feminine hygiene products to women in need. The initiative collects donations of products like pads and tampons, collected in care packages and distributed to local shelters and institutions.

The idea emerged shortly after Brandford moved to Canada in 2011, and discovered that period poverty was prevalent here, too. “I came to Canada, and I saw it happening here, which made me very sad. I decided to do something about it.

“I had the idea for some time, but I would always come up with excuses for why I couldn’t do it. ‘I’m too busy, I don’t know anything about non-profits, I’m too young.’ I kept seeing it more and more until I said, ‘Y’know what? I’m going to follow through with this.’ I started with an Instagram page, and then I reached out for donations with this one shelter, and then it just kept going.”

The Instagram page, external link launched May 15 (the day before Brandford’s birthday), and within two months started a charity drive. So far, Help a Girl Out has helped over 250 women and girls in the GTA in homes, shelters, soup kitchens and on the street. “At first it was really hard because I had to learn to market myself, and I had to keep records—all that was very new,” says Brandford. How did she learn? “Google! Google knows everything.”

For the winter pledge drive, Brandford hopes to collect enough hygiene products for 50 care packages, and encourages the Ryerson community to donate. “Period poverty is something so stigmatized, nobody talks about it. A lot of cultures see it as something women should be ashamed of. A lot of girls in Africa have to sleep outside. Nobody’s going to come right out and ask for this stuff, so somebody has to talk about it. So I’m that person talking about it!”

For more information, go to www.helpagirlout.org, external link.

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