Certain People get inspired by activism early in life. Take Amika George, for example. Given the 19-year-old’s impressive record in rallying against inequality, one could certainly picture her fighting playground injustices or defending a bullied student at the age of five.
“I think I probably thought this way from a young age,” says George. “But I never imagined doing something that would get as big as this.”
That “this” is #FreePeriods, the campaign George started in 2017 upon hearing that one in 10 girls in the United Kingdom couldn’t afford sanitary products, and that over 137,000 of them were being forced to miss school for one week each month. George started the campaign on Change.org, asking that politicians end period poverty by supplying free menstrual products throughout the U.K. Within a few weeks, she got over 2,000 signatures, but given the conservative party in leadership at the time, she wasn’t able to see through any form of actual legislation.
“We like to think that nothing could stop girls from going to school, but clearly that wasn’t the case.”
“I was so shocked because I assumed that the moment politicians had heard about this, they would have done something about it,” says George. “We like to think there’s no such thing as poverty and that it’s all OK, that nothing could stop girls from going to school, but clearly that wasn’t the case.”
George spent the next few months writing articles, appearing at events, and even giving a widely acclaimed TED talk to spread the word on period poverty. Finally, on a cold day in December 2017, just a few days shy of the new year, she made her rallying cry heard. George organized a grassroots protest outside Downing Street, where many U.K. politicians live and work. It was a last minute effort organized on social media that culminated in an over 2,000-person march.
“There was so much enthusiasm from teenage girls, even 12-year-olds messaging me and showing up,” says George. “It was girls and boys, it was people chanting and waving banners with period puns. It was amazing. I felt like I was seeing so much support online that wasn’t reflected in the government. So the protest was the perfect way to show them how many people care about the issue.”
George certainly made an impression. In 2018, the government announced it would start giving out free menstrual products in all primary and secondary schools as well as colleges throughout England. The world took notice. Nearly 18 months after launching #FreePeriods, George received the Campaign Award from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation at the Goalkeepers 2018 Global Goals Awards. The petition she started just over one year earlier had garnered almost 280,000 signatures. The campaign’s aims had been achieved—so far. Now, in addition to studying at Cambridge University, George’s next chapter in her #FreePeriods movement is examining period poverty globally and ending the period stigma once and for all.
“We’ve been socialized into thinking we need to hide our tampons up our sleeves and lower our voices when we talk about our periods,” says George. “The next generation of young people should be proud of and empowered by their periods. They’re are the reason we’re all here. There’s a period revolution and we’re right in the middle of it.”