It’s a sad fact that many of us still feel uncomfortable talking about periods and, by extension, about period poverty.
Not so Amika George, a 17-year-old from North London who has just kicked off a campaign to help to make sure that no girl is left without sanitary products. The school girl has collected more than five thousand signatures in just a few weeks, as well as garnering support from the likes of Channel 4 Newsreader Cathy Newman.
“It was probably about mid-March that I started to realise period poverty was being discussed in the media a lot,” Amika tells me. “I was reading about girls in Leeds not being able to go to school when they had their periods and I just couldn’t quite believe it.”
She’s talking about a report released in March by Freedom4Girls, which found that schoolteachers were sometimes buying pads and tampons for their students as they’d otherwise be forced to miss classes. The report also revealed that, for some families, it was a choice between buying food and buying sanitary products.
“Talking to my friends about it, I know they’d never heard of period poverty either, and they couldn’t quite fathom the fact that people couldn’t afford the things that we take for granted,” Amika says. “Girls are missing out on school and missing out on their education.”
‘This is a human rights issue’
Amika George says period poverty is a human rights issue (Picture: Amika George)
As part of her petition, Amika is hoping to convince the Government – whoever they may be on the 9th of June – to give all schoolgirls on free school meals access to free tampons and pads. “It would be amazing if all girls were given free sanitary products. But given the political climate, I don’t that that will happen, so I’m focusing on girls who get free school meals. It’s the first step to eventually getting there.”
“It’s been really humbling to see the number of people who commented saying ‘I was the person who couldn’t go to school’. I’ve also seen the complete opposite, a lot of people saying they had no idea what was going on. The split has really shocked me.”
Amika knows that period poverty is a human rights issue. “Every girl has a human right to education. If we’ve got that right to be educated, we should be able to take that education. The fact is that girls are having to jeopardise their education – and their health – by sellotaping newspaper to their underwear because they can’t afford pads.”
Great campaign https://t.co/Jeu8kicznx
— Cathy Newman (@cathynewman) April 3, 2017
“What makes this different to other issues is that this is such a personal thing,” Amika explains. “If people can’t afford food they’re more likely to seek help. Girls are far more reluctant to talk about this. But our human rights shouldn’t be in any way limited. They’re universal and shouldn’t be limited if you’re male or female, old or young. Everyone has human rights, and if something is getting in the way we need to fix that.”
And what of the people who still don’t want to speak about periods? “From doing this petition, I’ve spoken to boys and men too, and people get a bit fidgety and embarrassed. But that’s ridiculous. It affects half the population, and there shouldn’t be anything holding us back in talking about it.”
Want to know more about this?
- Meet another amazing young person passionate about human rights
- Read our explainer on why the tampon tax is a human rights issue
- See our timeline of how human rights have changed the world
- Take a look at our infographic on the right to education