Amika George is the founder of the #FreePeriods campaign and one of the winners of the 2018 Goalkeepers Awards.
1. Tell us how you became aware of and interested in the issue of period poverty?
I started #FreePeriods after I read about girls in the UK missing school every month because they couldn’t afford to buy pads and tampons. This term, period poverty, wasn’t something I’d heard of before, and I had no idea it was happening in a country considered to be prosperous and progressive. But what really shocked me was that the government knew this was happening, but they were refusing to take any action.
It seemed so unfair that girls - who have periods because of their biological makeup - are penalized because they too poor to protect themselves adequately during menstruation. Their education is compromised and their academic progress hindered, all because of something they could not avoid.
I decided I would try and raise awareness and call on the government to make sure no girl misses school because of period poverty.
2. Many young people care deeply about various issues, but they aren’t sure how to start a campaign. Or they feel they won’t be able to make a difference. Did you have these feelings and if so, how did you overcome them?
I did have plenty of doubts and fears along the way! I realised very quickly that finding a community is really vital, so creating a website where people could contact me to tell me thoughts and give feedback was really important. It helped me to feel connected to people who needed help. I hooked up with a group called The Pink Protest and together, we organised a real-life protest, which helped me to really understand how big the FreePeriods movement had become.
Campaigning can be lonely but social media helps us to reach out and find that support when we need it. I would encourage anyone that’s campaigning to find that group of people who can prop you up and encourage you when you start to feel isolated.
3. What has been the most rewarding part of working on the campaign?
Seeing tangible results is really rewarding as it demonstrates that activism works! After the FreePeriods protest, the UK government pledged to give funds to address period poverty, and this was really galvanising. It shows that when people come together for a cause, it really can make waves. Receiving emails from girls who say that they feel more comfortable talking about periods and refuse to be bound by shame and embarrassment is also really encouraging! My aim is to destigmatize periods and reframe the way we view menstruation. It’s time periods got a makeover!
4. You’ve used a mixture of online and offline tactics/tools in your campaign, do you think one is more effective than the other? How do you decide on campaign tactics?
I would love to say that I have a strategy, but I don’t always! It really depends on how it feels at the time. I try and do as many in real life events as possible - in schools, conferences etc, but there are times when online tools are more effective. Sharing an article or message online can go round the world in minutes on social media but sometimes, when you have a specific message for a specific group of people, it can be powerful to stand up in a small room and interact with the audience.
5. You recently started university – what has that been like and how do you balance activism with academics – and making sure you don’t burn out?
I’m loving life at university! I’ve just started at Cambridge and it can be pretty intense to get through the workload while continuing with all the campaign commitments, especially when it involves travelling around! Sometimes I can’t believe how exhausted I am! I have some amazing friends who really support me, and I make sure I keep a good balance of study, campaigning, socialising and having some downtime.
6. What’s your advice to other young people who want to campaign on an issue they care about?
I would say that if you feel that something has to change, be the person to start that change. Don’t wait for anyone else to do it, because the chances are, that no one will. Try and get as much publicity as possible for the campaign - so write to local papers, national papers, send articles to online sites, write to policymakers and think BIG! Don’t hold back thinking you’re being too ambitious because the chances are, you’re not. Rope in your friends and family to help spread the message, and don’t give up! Be loud and be vocal and keep going. You’ll be surprised how much you can achieve with some passion and a phone!