Interview with Founder of Free Periods Canada and 2019 Recipient of the Diana Award, Zeba Khan
By Annabella Feeny
Zeba Khan is the Founder of Free Periods Canada, a non-profit organization that provides free menstrual supplies to marginalized populations in Vancouver, Canada. She graduated with a Bachelor of Integrated Science in Physiology and Neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. As a new graduate, Zeba hopes to apply her diverse background in research and philanthropy, to a position that enables her to directly help others and her community.
What are you most passionate about?
I am most passionate about healthcare equity and accessibility. Growing up in Bangladesh, I was visibly aware of the stigmatization regarding menstruation and the lack of adequate access to menstrual products. However, when I moved to Vancouver for my undergraduate studies, I realized that these problems are not just confined to a developing country, but rather are resounding, global issues that must be countered through awareness and policy. According to Plan International Canada, one-third of Canadian women under the age of 25 say that they’ve struggled to afford menstrual products. There is a critical need for leadership to address menstrual issues in Canada and around the world.
Who is your greatest role model?
Yas Azarpajouh, my supervisor for my Co-op program at UBC. The Co-operative educational program (Co-op) integrates students’ academic education with relevant, supervised, and paid work experience in their field. My experiences during Co-op were pivotal in shaping my career path and allowing me to explore what I really wanted to do after graduation. Although I had always envisioned myself working in a healthcare setting, Yas helped me to truly understand where my strengths and interests lay. I am most comfortable in a role that allows me to utilize my interpersonal skills to design and implement health advocacy and educational campaigns.
What is your greatest accomplishment in your career trajectory?
My greatest accomplishment was founding Free Periods Canada to address period poverty in marginalized populations. Our mission is to distribute free period packages to homeless shelters, run educational workshops and events to change the way we engage in dialogue about menstruation, and fight for systematic change towards menstrual equity. We are currently conducting a pilot project that is focused on providing period products at no cost to students on university campuses.
What advice would you give to women who are building their careers?
Focus on building your network. Reach out to women you aspire to be like and learn everything you can about how they got to where they are and what motivated them to continue pursuing their goals. There are so many people that are willing to help you to connect with employers, mentors, and opportunitunities; you just have to ask.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you?
Imposter syndrome. Social media and platforms like LinkedIn facilitate a culture of comparison. We subconsciously compare ourselves to others, which can reinforce feelings that our accomplishments and experiences are simply not enough. However, it is important to remind ourselves that there is always a journey behind the scenes that is rarely shared on social media. In many ways, social media is a highlight reel, we put forth our most positive experiences and achievements in an effort to inspire and motivate others. While that may not necessarily be a bad thing, we must remember that life is imperfect and that everyone’s journey is different. Comparison is the thief of joy.