Growing up, Yanique Brandford knew what it was like to struggle to afford period products.
Her mom would make pads for her out of cardboard, plastic, or other products she’d find around the house so that her daughter was able to attend school.
Although Brandford grew up in Jamaica, when she moved to Canada, she came to realize that period poverty was an issue that affected menstruators globally.
Period poverty is the inadequate access to menstrual products and education, as well as toilets and handwashing facilities, and/or waste management — and it affects people around the world.
In Canada alone, 34% of women and girls have had to give up something else in their budget “regularly or occasionally” to afford period products, according to a Plan International Canada report released in 2019.
“But it is kind of swept under the carpet because of the secrecy and the stigma attached to menstruation,” Brandford told Global Citizen. “So, everyday, I’m inspired to go out and do better for girls that might be going through similar circumstances and not have a voice.”
Now 23, Brandford is the founder of Help A Girl Out (HAGO), a non-profit organization that focuses on reducing period poverty and eliminating stigma associated with menstruation.
She is also the first-ever recipient of Canada’s Hero Award.
The best thing about #GCPrize is being able to honour grassroots activists like Yanique Brandford, the founder of @HelpAGirlOutNP and the first-ever recipient of Canada's Hero Award. pic.twitter.com/79C4mCRwxe— Global Citizen Canada (@GlblCtznCAN) December 20, 2020
The Country Hero Award is a new award category for Global Citizen Prize 2020 that honours individuals around the world who have shown exceptional commitment to the Global Goals in their country and globally, championing the most vulnerable people. The winners, selected in Australia, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa, and the UK, will receive a prize of $10,000 to help support their projects to advance progress toward the Global Goals.
“Being awarded with this year’s Canada’s Hero Award is a monumental honour for me personally, as well as for HAGO and the menstrual equity movement here in Canada,” Brandford said. “This award not only will open doors for conversations around the issue of period poverty, but will also allow HAGO to further impact the lives of young women who are victims of menstrual stigma.”
Brandford started HAGO on her own in 2016 and it was registered as a nonprofit in 2018. The young activist works to raise awareness around period poverty, as well as the stigma connected to menstruation as she feels period shame is a barrier to female prosperity.
“I’m inspired by my mom, who … created menstrual supplies every month when there was no money in the house,” she said. “That has been my motivation.”
HAGO puts together and distributes care packages with hygiene and sanitary products to underprivileged menstruators in Canada and in developing countries, including Jamaica. The team also works with volunteers to host product drives, as well as kit packing parties.
And this year the team responded to a call for hygiene supplies from an Indigenous nonprofit called Finding Our Power Together. Together, the organizations were able to ship 200 care packages to remote regions in Canada’s North, where women have trouble accessing the supplies they need in order to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
With this year’s prize money, Brandford says HAGO will look to further its work providing support to girls and women at risk of period poverty in Canada, ideally reaching more remote Indigenous communities in Northern Ontario with menstrual care packages.
She adds that the funding will also allow her and the team to sew more reusable pads — a new project they’ve taken on. The donations they receive are most often low absorption pads so reusable pads help HAGO fulfill the demand for more absorbent ones.
Lastly, the funding will help Brandford provide adequate training and software to help HAGO team members lead education and awareness workshops for young girls who have not yet begun menstruating.
“I find hope in the fact that period poverty is an issue that we are able to eliminate completely,” Brandford said.
Today, on top of her work with HAGO, Canada’s Hero is also studying biomedical physics at Ryerson University and is currently doing research to develop a new medical imaging modality for proton therapy cancer treatment that would provide real-time tumour visualization.
“You can make a difference. Start somewhere, start anywhere,” she said, addressing Global Citizens everywhere who want to help improve lives. “I started this nonprofit with no money in the bank, but the drive to change people’s lives. And you can do it as well.”
Join Global Citizen in December 2020 to celebrate the leaders among us who have stepped up against a backdrop of unprecedented global challenges to take action for the world we want — a world that is fair, just, and equal.
The broadcast and digitally streamed award ceremony will also feature inspirational stories of human strength and unforgettable performances that will bring together artists, activists, and global leaders to remind each of us that, together, we will come out of this year stronger. Find out more about the Global Citizen Prize here.