Amika George has a lot on her plate. Currently studying for a history degree at Cambridge University, the 20-year-old is buckled into a routine of weekly essays and long-haul spells in the library. And beyond the university’s walls she has made a national impact as an activist working to end period stigma and poverty.
The founder of the organisation Free Periods, she juggled A levels and university applications with a successful campaign to make the UK government put a decisive end to period poverty. After a long journey that saw her gather thousands of signatures for an online petition, stage a 2,000-strong protest outside Downing Street and fundraise to be able to take the issue to court, George eventually got the UK government to respond to her demands. Proving that individuals really can make systemic change, she can take the credit for the scheme put in place in January that will provide all schools in England with free menstrual products.
How did you first become involved in period activism?
In 2017, I read an article about girls in the UK having to miss school for a week every month because they couldn’t afford period products. I was quite naïve, thinking that, because this was so awful and shocking, the government would immediately step up. That never happened and it made me angry. I decided to start an online campaign to ask the UK government to provide free tampons and pads in all schools. Free Periods just grew from there.
With that in mind, do you identify with the DIY activism movement we’re seeing among Gen Z?
Definitely. People are taking things into their own hands to make change, and we no longer see politics as being confined to privileged white men in suits. Young people, especially, feel empowered to make change themselves. The fact that Greta Thunberg and millions of children around the world can mobilise with Fridays for Future and force governments to talk about the climate crisis is proving that this kind of activism is more powerful than going through traditional channels.
Social media has been really instrumental in the success of both Fridays for Future and your work with Free Periods. How do you think it’s changed activism more widely?
We can now create campaigns and mobilise via Instagram.I think that’s completely changed the nature of political activism and really empowered us to make change ourselves rather than waiting for people who don’t sympathise with the issue, or don’t know what we’re talking about, to do it for us.
What do you say to people who describe social media activism as “slacktivism”?
There are so many adults who say it’s just clicktivism or that it’s not making a real difference. I think Free Periods is definitely testament to the fact that you can achieve real change via social media.
What’s next for the Free Periods campaign?
We’re looking forward to launching a European legal case suggesting that EU governments have a legal obligation to follow the UK’s example. I hope that the English scheme will continue to be a success and set a precedent that makes other countries tackle period poverty.
What are you going to do after you graduate?
In the long-term future, I’d love to go into human rights work. Some people at Cambridge have detailed five-year plans for their future, but I’m not 100 per cent sure yet.