This time last year, I walked onto a wide, dimly-lit stage at Goalkeepers New York, to deliver a speech to four hundred people on why we needed to eradicate period poverty globally.
Putting an end to period shame
As the Founder of FreePeriods, the campaign to end period poverty worldwide, I have heard accounts from children across the globe describing how lack of access to menstrual products affects them day to day, and heard of the long-lasting, insidious effects that can last an entire lifetime.
I have heard from girls who tell me how they are forced to drop out of school as soon as they start menstruating, often on the orders of a parent, who goes on to place them in the vile clutches of child marriage.
Some have told me how they use cow dung or exercise books in place of pads, just to be able to get to school, knowing full well that infections and disease are likely to take hold. I have been told how horribly dirty, impure and unclean they are made to feel when on their period, banished from places of prayer, from the kitchen, even from the house. They are isolated and ostracized.
What can we do to subvert injustice against women?
These accounts have sadden me, have me riven in anger, and terrified me, in equal measure. They are reflective of a world that continues to silence and undermine women, that uses a natural, normal biological process to negate the rights and rise of women everywhere.
It must stop: when the needs of over half the world’s population are side-lined, when there is a marked and persistent gap in opportunities and decision-making power for women, when women across the globe have less access to education, less visibility, greater health and safety risks, and lack the power and control of their own life inside and outside their home, we all need to be asking what we can do to subvert these glaring injustices.
We should be asking what we can do, because we all have the power to effect change, even in the smallest of ways.
How I started the FreePeriods campaign
I started FreePeriods at the age of 17 from my bedroom after learning that 1 in 10 girls my age or younger, were missing school in the UK because they couldn’t afford to buy period products. 137,000 girls in the UK missed school in 2018 because of period poverty, and 6% of parents admitted stealing period products for their children.
It was clear that period poverty was hitting the very poorest families, and I knew that something had to be done given the government’s inaction.
After a peaceful protest outside Parliament, after giving endless interviews after school, meeting with Ministers who pledged to look into the matter and then did nothing, and finally, after launching a legal challenge against the government, the UK government pledged to offer free menstrual products for all students in all schools and colleges.
Don't be afraid to take a stand
The global goals are so incredibly important in helping us to clearly identify the global challenges we face. Gender equality is one, along with sixteen others such as zero hunger, no poverty, clean water and peace and justice.
We can all take one goal that resonates with us, and strive to tackle it in our own way, in our homes, schools, workplaces or communities. Don’t be afraid to take a stand at a time where our world seems so ruptured and volatile.
I didn’t think that a teenage girl like me could influence government policy but we did it and now, I’m really excited to go even further in breaking the silence and help every girl stay in school.
Amika George is founder of the FreePeriods campaign, which won the Goalkeepers campaign at the Global Goals Awards in 2018.
In photo: Amika George talking to Emma Gannon about the FreePeriods campaign at Women for Women International's #SheInspiresMe Live Feminist Festival in 2018.