Abigail Gurney-Read talks to the brains, voice and face of #FreePeriods.

In 2017, Amika George was, in many ways, a typical 17 year-old. Deep in the midst of revising for her A-Levels, she divvied her time between laborious university application processes, and painstakingly preparing for the interviews that followed.

And yet, unlike many of her peers, during the April of that very same year, Amika launched what was to become a nationwide campaign: #FreePeriods.

"I would be doing press and media interviews on my way to school," Amika tells me. "I remember once leaving in a taxi to be on the ITV Lunchtime News, and then running back to a History class."

Committed to ending menstruation-related poverty in the UK, #FreePeriods began life as an online movement; galvanising support on social media, in just a few short months Amika had spearheaded a campaign that culminated in 2000 young people meeting outside Downing Street to demand legislative change.

"It made me angry that this was a natural, normal biological progress, but those who were poorest in society were being held back because of it," she explains. "It shocked me that the government were refusing to take action… As a schoolgirl myself, I could understand how regular absences from school can really affect educational progress, dignity and confidence. It was wrong."

Illustration by Alice Skinner, courtesy of Free Periods.

Just over a year on from that day, and – now studying at Cambridge – Amika’s activist streak is equally (if not more so) fired up to demand change. "I used to think that an activist was someone who dedicated their life to a certain cause, plotting extreme ways in which to grab the headlines. But, the image of an activist means something totally different to me now…"

"Activism," Amika says, "is accessible to everyone."

The movement’s latest incarnation is a legal campaign in partnership with the Red Box Project – the premise being that, under the Equality Act, the government must ensure every child’s ability to attend school, remedying any barriers to them doing so.

"We know that period poverty is one of those barriers," continues Amika. "It’s horrific that girls are having to make their own pads by using socks and toilet roll… Giving schools the funding to provide free menstrual products to all girls will mean that everyone can access education without any stress or anxiety about where their next pad or tampon will come from."

"My main focus," she goes on, "is to use legislation to make sure that the government complies with its legal obligations."

Illustration by Alice Skinner, courtesy of Free Periods.

Of course, the stigma surrounding menstruation doesn’t begin and end with the education system. As I discovered recently, talking to the pioneering women behind organic tampons – all of whom champion greater transparency from feminine hygiene products and their manufacturers – the period taboo runs deeper in society than perhaps any of us imagined, as Amika describes...

"Periods are seen exclusively as a woman’s issue – and our issues are continually sidelined or ignored. The shame and embarrassment surrounding menstruation means that men don’t have the exposure to periods that’s needed in order to really understand that they’re nothing that women should be apologising for."

Amika’s philosophy for life – her political savvy – is both admirable and inspiring. When I think of myself, aged 17, I recognise a similar bubbling of outrage at the socio-economic status quo – a kindred political indignation to that which proved to be Amika’s catalyst to campaign… And yet, at aged 17, I myself felt powerless to change anything.

Such realities are not lost on Amika. "Decisions are being made which affect young people’s future in hugely significant ways, but these decisions are not made by us. It makes young people feel isolated from the political agenda…"

"However," she continues: "If you want to see change, go and get it, make it, and be it."

Illustration by Alice Skinner, courtesy of Free Periods.

I don’t know about you, but it strikes me that we could all do with adopting a similarly self-assured mindset – particularly in a political climate that’s, as yet, far from certain.

Click here to visit the Free Periods page. Keen to support? Click here to find out how...

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