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Living / Lizzie Coop

We Meet Activist Amika George To Talk #FreePeriods

Food or sanitary products? No really, food or sanitary products?

The decision feels like a straightforward one, especially when your handbag is littered with tampon sticks and you don’t really have to make it, but for the thousands of women in the UK who face this – and they do – things aren’t so easy.

Period poverty is existent and critically unreported. One in ten British girls have been unable to afford sanitary products and nearly half feel embarrassed by their periods. Even at the hands of these shocking statistics, our governments continue to roll out tampon tax—which sees tampons deemed as a ‘“luxury” item and taxed accordingly. It is vital when living in this social climate that incites discrimination to remain active, educated and resisting—Amika George is all three, and so much more.

After activating and leading the #FreePeriods movement last year, 18-year-old George aims to eradicate the fact that girls from low-income families are currently missing school because they do not have access to period products.

While George’s ultimate goal is to convince the government to provide menstrual products to all children in the UK, her focus right now remains firmly rooted on our girls who need it most – those who qualify for free school meals. “No child should be missing school because they bleed and can not afford pads or tampons,’ explains George.

Following #FreePeriods’ first peaceful protest at Parliament Square late last year, we spoke to Amika George about period poverty, resisting policies and the future of menstruation.

When did it all begin?

“It all came from a sense of anger and sadness, in the exact moment I discovered that there were children in the UK missing school because they could not afford to have their period. I was horrified. I quickly started researching to see what was being done about this, and found that the answer was nothing. Nothing at all. I was shocked and decided to start a campaign to lobby the government, urging them to give free menstrual products to children from the lowest income families.

“I found support quickly and globally. So many people outreached to offer support, with many telling me that this was something they were going through and needed to be addressed. This encouraged me to keep going forward.”

How did you make it all happen?

“Period poverty was once an alien concept to me. My top drawer is full of pads for when I need them and other than suffering from bad cramps every so often, my period has never stopped me from going about my daily life. It really upsets me to think that there are children staying at home close to the toilet because they can not protect themselves in any other way. Some girls have no other choice but to improvise and make sanitary products themselves with things like socks and tissues. Period poverty is real.

“The thought of the government knowing that this is happening – it has been raised several times in The House of Lords and Commons – but choosing to ignore it is unacceptable. My campaign was organic, it came from me feeling that if there was a small chance that I could do something about it, then why shouldn’t I try?”

Do you believe female unity is integral to inciting change?

“It’s vital. #FreePeriods has tapped into something that has been bubbling away for a while now. Young women want to look out for each other, they want to have each others’ backs and we are proud to be fighting for each other. We are proud to be vocal when we see an injustice and we are not afraid to try and elicit a change when we think something needs to be changed.

“My brilliant friends, Scarlett Curtis and Grace Campbell, are fine examples of that. From Mental Health issues to Help Refugees, their Pink Protest campaign shows that there is an active collective of young women who will speak out and try and make things a bit better.  There’s a real solidarity amongst young women, and #FreePeriods is a brilliant example of how we can work together to go from a campaign to a movement.”

How can the women reading this piece show their support?

“By pressuring the government with me, by pushing for change, and making sure they hear that #FreePeriods is needed and soon. The #FreePeriods petition has over 139,000 signatures and that’s 139,000 people saying enough is enough, but we need to do more to be noticed. We need everyone to write to their local MP and tell them that we need a statutory pledge to be made, we need to write about period poverty, to discuss it, and to make sure everyone knows that period poverty is damaging the health and education of young people and this needs to stop.”

 The taboo attached to periods doesn’t help either, right?

“No it doesn’t. We need to change the mood surrounding periods. There’s a huge stigma attached to menstruation which needs to be broken down, and really, we can only do that through conversation and discussion. We have to start talking about periods loudly, with confidence and without embarrassment. As I always say, this has to come from girls and women because boys and men will only feel it’s ok to do the same once we women do it first.

“We need to start now. Tell your friends, family, your brothers about your periods and let’s normalize the conversation surrounding menstruation. There’s a change happening right now that is almost tangible, and the protest was real evidence of this. We’ve had enough of hiding periods under a cloak of shame. I’m on a mission to end the taboo, and it’s not easy! But if we all do it, it will happen, but it should start from a young age. There needs to be much more positive education for all genders at school and this education has to give out a message that tells us periods are wonderful and cause for celebration.”

Have you always felt confident when talking about periods?

I think so, mainly because my family have always been comfortable talking about periods. My mum taught me from a young age that periods are actually pretty amazing, and the human body is incredible. I have a brother who’s grown up with conversations about periods in the house, and he feels quite comfortable about the fact that my mum and I, and my dad sometimes, talk about menstruation unapologetically. My younger brother has even gone to the shops to buy pads for me (though he always buys some gum, too!)

What’s the next step for #FreePeriods?

The next step is to raise the noise levels!!! We need to keep the momentum of #FreePeriods going because there’s a huge mount of engagement out there with the press, with the public etc, and it’s attracted such a huge amount of interest in other countries that it’s quite phenomenal! It shows that people are ready to talk about menstruation and they are at ease with it. I just interviewed for Newsweek, and I would never have associated this media outlet with periods. We need people to keep blogging, talking, writing about #FreePeriods, and keep telling everyone about period poverty.

Aside from changing the world, what else have you been up to?

I’m doing my A-Levels and hopefully going to university this year, so I spend much of my time with my head down! I’m still doing a lot of media as I try to spread awareness, and that can be a fine balancing act, but I actually wouldn’t have it any other way!

Sign the petition right here https://www.freeperiods.org/petition/

If you haven’t signed up to Pink Parcel yet, it’s time to start enjoying your period! Subscribe here and you’ll have everything you need (and want) sent directly to your door.

Image: @thisisaliceskinner


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