While most A-Level students spend evenings doing homework or chain-watching whatever’s on Netflix, Amika George calls politicians, researches period poverty and campaigns to end it in the UK.
She’s the girl behind #FreePeriods, the campaign calling on Theresa May to provide sanitary products for girls already receiving free school meals. Nearly 15,000 people have signed her petition already, she’s received support from Lords, Politicians and celebrities like Jameela Jamil too. Next month, she’ll be giving a TEDx talk on period poverty.
I spoke to Amika to find out how the campaigns going, the overwhelming public response and how breaking taboos can end period poverty in the UK.
Daisy Bernard: You’ve been campaigning to eliminate period poverty for a while now. How did it all begin?
Amika George: It all began back in March when a study was published which found that girls in the UK were routinely missing school because they were unable to afford the cost of sanitary products.
These girls were from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds, where their families could barely afford to provide to put food on the table. An amazing organisation called Freedom4Girls, who sends sanitary products to far flung places like Kenya, received a call from a school in Leeds, asking if they could divert products to them.
When I read about this, I was totally taken aback. Not only was it horrific that young girls in the UK were missing out on the education they are entitled to, but absolutely nothing had been done about it. It really impacted me, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. I decided if no one was taking action to change this, then I should. So I started a petition lobbying the government to give all girls on free school meals free sanitary protection and called it #FreePeriods.
DB: How’s the petition going so far?
AG: It’s going really well. I have had a huge amount of support from the public, from people in the public eye, and from MPs. It’s approaching 15k signatures currently.
There’s been remarkable interest in the subject – it’s so encouraging! – and period poverty is really starting to rise in public consciousness. People are interested in finding out how they can help and acknowledge that this is a really grave problem affecting the educational attainment, health and dignity of young girls. It really is unacceptable that this is happening here, right under our noses, and that those who can elicit change simply choose to ignore it.
DB: Do you think enough people are aware of period poverty in the UK?
AG: There is a definite movement taking place right now. Period poverty is being talked about on TV and radio and mainstream publications are giving coverage to issues considered a bit icky a year ago. Talking about periods in all circles is key to and normalising what is simply part of who we are as girls and women. I’m giving a TEDx talk on period poverty in a few weeks and I’ll continue to use any opportunity to talk periods!
DB: What’s the response been like?
AG: For every person who signs the petition or contacts me to say they were clueless about period poverty, there are another handful who say that they are experiencing it right now. Some of the accounts of these girls are heart-breaking.
Many girls don’t even ask their parents for money for sanitary products; they know there just isn’t the cash available. Some use socks or toilet roll, others cut up old clothes, and some just bleed. They stay at home, and bleed!
How can we say we live in a progressive society where such basic needs of the worst off amongst us is failing to be addressed, when fundamental human rights are being denied?
People want to see change, and I do believe that change is happening.
DB: Have you had much help from other people?
AG: There are so many people who have contacted me to offer help! I’ve done the campaigning pretty much on my own but recently Scarlett Curtis, Grace Campbell, Emma Gannon and Jameela Jamil filmed themselves talking about the injustice of period poverty and that’s been a huge boost.
I hope that we can work together more on the campaign – they are inspirational and have so much energy!
Baroness Burt of Solihull and Baroness Chakrabarti have helped with engaging the House of Lords to garner support, and I do believe that we can elicit change if we all shout loudly enough.
DB: How much of your time do you put into campaigning?
AG: I spend most evenings campaigning in between doing my schoolwork and applying to universities. I enjoy it!
DB: What is it that motivates you to keep going?
It’s hugely encouraging when impact, no matter how small, is being made. I reached out to all the political parties during the 2017 elections, and with the help of my army of signers who pestered their local MPs, we succeeded in persuading the Green Party to include a pledge to end period poverty, and by the end of the Election campaign the WEP and the Liberal Democrats vowed to do the same.
Most recently, Labour committed to an investment of £10m to end period poverty which is incredible. Sadly, there is nothing but radio silence from the Conservatives but we are working to change this!
DB: As well as signing the petition and donating to charities like Bloody Good Period, how can people help to diminish period poverty in the UK?
AG: Talking about periods! Smashing the stigma surrounding menstruation is something we can work at together. Talk about periods to your dads and brothers, to your male friends and anyone who will listen.
Period taboo has to be consigned to history. We’ve seen the back of so many taboos in recent years and it seems ridiculous that we still talk in hushed voices when it comes to periods. Destigmatising this taboo will result in more girls who experience period poverty feeling that it’s fine to ask for help – at this moment, we don’t have a good grasp on how many girls are affected because of the shame in talking about it.
DB: What’s the next step for you?
AG: I don’t have anything else planned yet. My aim is to work towards making sure these girls of FSM don’t face any further obstacles to getting the education they deserve – they face enough challenges already. These girls often say they have no voice, but, hopefully soon, they will feel as if they are being heard.
If you want to help Amika’s campaign, sign the petition here.
Amika George was exclusively interviewed by Daisy Bernard for LAPP.