A campaign is gaining support of celebrities, thousands of people online, and MP’s, challenging the Prime Minister to put an end to period poverty. The eighteen-year-old from North London who started it all speaks to Renuka Odedra.
Discussions on the tentative and tough subject of periods and the much-contested ‘tampon tax’ have been increasingly ubiquitous over the years. Whilst these conversations continue, most women will make their way to the supermarket, every month to purchase tampons or pads for ‘that time of the month’. Such a strange euphuism for something that most of us in biology lessons at school are taught is natural. Yet the topic of periods can still be masked in cobwebs, left to gather dust, something we rather not think about.
HM Revenue and Customs categorise sanitary products as “non-essential, luxury” items. Luxury you say, oh yes, as soon as payday arrives women flock to the shops to treat themselves to a luxurious pack of sanitary products, they really ought to stop treating themselves with a product of such grandeur. The taxing of these essential products is more bewildering when considering that items like bingo games, helicopters, exotic meats and alcoholic jellies are exempt from tax.
But the subject of periods is part of a much bigger problem. Socks, bunched up tissues, old t-shirts, and newspapers, these are just some of the alternatives young girls and women must resort to every month. Some make the bleak choice between eating a meal and buying the essential sanitary products they need each month.
In March of this year, Amika George came across an article about how the charity ‘Freedom4Girls’ was requested to divert sanitary supplies from Kenya to Leeds after girls were missing school because they couldn’t afford to buy sanitary protection. This was a case when sanitary products were diverted from a third-world country to what we have proudly bestowed upon ourselves in western society as a first-world nation. This profound and shocking discovery didn’t go amiss by Amika. It was reading this story that was the light bulb moment for her. “In our country, it seems absolutely bewildering that the government can commit to a £35 billion spending plan on Trident,” explains Amika. “But they are refusing to help these young girls stay in school.”
That is when Amika decided that she had to do something, to help girls put into awful situations, where periods have become a hurdle in their lives.
“It horrified me that these girls were struggling to meet such a basic need. I felt that nothing was being done and that if no one had yet taken the steps to help, then why not me.”
Soon afterwards the campaign #FreePeriods came into action, where Amika is asking the UK government to provide free sanitary products to all girls that are given free school meals. “These are the girls from the lowest socioeconomic backgrounds, whose parents face a daily financial struggle. They have already been means-tested, and the government has a list of these girls on a database as they receive free school meals.”
It’s the child-like, squirming in our seats attitude which is affecting girls around the country and denying them the basic human right to prepare for and be sanitary on their periods.
“We’ve smashed so many societal taboos in recent years, but somehow, a natural process affecting half the world’s population, something that is so remarkable in its function is still talked about in hushed tones and causes huge shame and embarrassment,” says Amika as she starts to open up about her dismay at the way in which periods are perceived. “I for one am proud of my periods. It makes me a woman and I’m not ashamed.”
Amika believes that sanitary product companies have a great responsibility when it comes to showcasing periods for what they are. “These companies have a lot to do in undoing the regressive advertising that’s been subconsciously influencing our perceptions of periods.”
One company leading the way in accurately portraying periods in advertisements is Bodyform. In October it released an advert, #BloodNormal, becoming the first to showcase real ‘blood’ for a sanitary product.
“According to our recent research, we know that 61% of women believe that the portrayal of periods in feminine care advertising is unrealistic. Bodyform wants to change this,” a spokesperson for the company told The Demon.
The next big step in Amika’s campaign is a demonstration taking place in Parliament Square on the 20th of December. People attending are encouraged to wear red to show the British government that menstruation blood is nothing to be ashamed of.
On WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 20TH we will PROTEST in Parliament Square to call on the British Government to end Period Poverty in the U.K.
THIS PROTEST IS FOR EVERYONE.
— Amika George (@AmikaGeorge) December 1, 2017
Whilst Amika is tackling her campaign commitments, she is also studying for her A levels and this has made her something of a pro when it comes to being efficient.
“I’ve become pretty ace at multi-tasking. A Levels are tough, and it can be difficult juggling talks, interviews, media and general campaigning plans. But everyone has been supportive.”
The sheer passion Amika exudes for #FreePeriods is remarkable, but she knows altering perceptions is not going to be an easy feat, “we are all fighting for change, and that was never going to be easy.”
For more information about Amika’s campaign, you can visit www.freeperiods.org.
Closer to home, the De Montfort Student Union’s (DSU), women’s representative, Sarah Burdett and Jessica Okwuonu, the Vice President of Welfare and Community, successfully campaigned to provide students with free sanitary products inside the Campus Centre.
Sarah Burdett told the DSU website that “students really should not be missing out on their education because they cannot afford free sanitary products”.
Students can ask for free sanitary products at the DSU reception, on the ground floor of the Campus Centre. Currently, they are also introducing sanitary products inside both gender neutral and female toilets, within the building.