Amika George is the 18-year-old behind the #FreePeriods campaign. Between studying for her A-Levels in North London, Amika has become an activist and the face of the fight against period poverty in the U.K. It’s been reported that one in ten girls in the U.K. are unable to afford sanitary products and that many of these young women miss school as a result. With 159K signatures and counting, support from MPs and celebrities, and a protest in December that 1000s attended – Amika is leading the fight for disadvantaged girls to be given the right to free sanitary products. We caught up with this exceptional young woman below, for our latest edition of GRL Talk…
Hey Amika. Can you tell the FGRLS CLUB readers a little about yourself?
I’m 18, at school and about to sit my A Levels very soon! I live in London with my parent and my brother who’s 16.
When did you first become engaged with period poverty?
I started #FreePeriods after I found out that girls in the UK were missing school. When I heard that there were children missing school every month because they couldn’t afford to have a period, I was horrified. To think that a natural, normal, biological process was preventing children from learning, from achieving their ambitions and being the best they could be is wrong on every level.
Some were fashioning their own makeshift protection from socks and old clothes, and this really shocked me. As a schoolgirl myself, I couldn’t believe that periods were a reason for girls being held back. It really upset me when I considered the stress and anxiety of making a pad or tampon last all day, or knowing you’d leaked onto your uniform.
The #FreePeriods protest in December was amazing! It was an important step for the movement because over one thousand people came; holding banners and signs with THE most amazing and clever slogans demanding that now was the time for change.
Talk us through how you started the campaign? A lot of people are passionate about similar issues, but don’t know where to begin. You’re studying for your A-Levels and have started #FreePeriods, which proves how no one is too busy or too young to make a change!?
I started it from my bedroom, by starting the #FreePeriods petition on Change.org. Then I began to try and raise awareness about period poverty and before I knew it, everyone wanted to know more the issue, to understand it and try and do something about it. Social media is the best tool for spreading your mission, if it’s a worthy cause you’ll soon find that it resonates with so many people.
Over 159k people have added their name to the #FreePeriods petition demanding a statutory pledge be made by the government so that all children can access menstrual products when they need them. This shows just how much support there is and how many people want to see an end to period poverty.
It can be really challenging to find time to do interviews and media requests when you’re studying for A Levels, so I would never say it’s easy! With exams, coursework deadlines and revision, it’s a fine balancing act. However, when you’re determined and driven about eliciting change, somehow that energy and passion keep you going.
What are your goals for #FreePeriods and how can people get involved/help?
My goal is to see a statutory pledge be made by our government to make sure that no girl misses school because of her period. The first small step we have achieved as campaigners is to pressure the government into allocating £1.5m from the tampon tax to charities who are working to eliminate period poverty. But there’s still lots more to do. There are some incredible organisations who distribute menstrual products in schools, colleges, to refugees and homeless women. If you go to www.freeperiods.org you can find different ways to take action. Write to your MP. Flood their inbox with messages. Be a nuisance.
The stigma around periods is one of the big reasons why we still have period poverty in the UK. How would you encourage young women to discuss menstruation in a more empowering and positive way?
It’s so important. We need to reframe menstruation in society’s eyes and we can only do that by changing our own narrative. We need to talk about periods more openly, stop making up names for them, be honest, and stop apologising for something that makes women extraordinary!
Which stories have moved, shocked or inspired you from your campaigning?
There are girls who describe to me how they dread their period because they know they’ll need to stay at home and be near a toilet. They tell me how they don’t ask their parents for pads or tampons because they know they don’t have the cash. It’s really sad. We are talking about young children who are inhibited and disadvantaged simply because of their natural, biological make-up.
Which women inspire you on the daily?
I’m inspired by Hilary Clinton- her resilience, her determination, her fighting spirit. I’m inspired by my grandmother who was a force of nature – feisty, independent in her thinking, full of self-belief and the strongest woman I’ve ever met.
Finally, the question we ask everyone on GRL Talk. What would you go back and tell your 16-year-old-self?
Do what makes you happy. Say no. Don’t feel bad about putting yourself first and stop trying to please everyone else.
Get involved with #FreePeriods HERE
Sign the petition HERE
Follow Amika HERE