When Murray Edwards student Amika George was just 17 years old, she launched the Free Periods campaign because she learnt that girls were missing school because they could not afford to buy menstrual products. After organising a successful protest and receiving some recognition from the government, Amika is continuing the fight to end period poverty in the UK. In launching a new legal campaign, she wishes to secure a long-term solution to the problem, and ultimately protect girls’ fundamental human right to education by providing them with access to menstrual products so they do not have to miss school whilst they are on their period. In her own words, Amika charts the progress of her campaign, and explains why you should get involved with the cause.
Period Poverty in the UK:
The UK is supposedly the 5th largest economy in the world, but 1 in 10 girls cannot afford menstrual products, and 12% have had to improvise, using awful alternatives such as loo roll, newspaper or socks. Period poverty in the UK is very real, and over 137,000 girls missed school last year because they were unable to afford menstrual products. Period poverty is robbing young girls of a childhood and those who miss school, for up to one week every month, face getting further and further behind in their educational progress and, as a consequence, suffer real social isolation.
This horrifying reality is only reflective of the level of abject poverty in this country, and period poverty seems no surprise when put in the context of recent surges in the use of foodbanks, increasing child poverty levels, and new reports that one fifth of our population lives in poverty.
These stark figures detailing the long-term impact of period poverty make the issue difficult to ignore. Yet, the government remains in denial, refusing to take any meaningful action to address and eradicate it.
The Free Periods Movement:
In April 2017, I started the #FreePeriods movement, a national campaign calling on the government to provide free menstrual products to schoolgirls in the UK. The campaign grew very quickly, with the petition reaching over 230,000 signatures, largely because so many others were as appalled as I was that a natural, biological process was denying so many girls the right to an equal education, compromising their academic attainment.
The Free Periods Protest:
I decided to capitalise on this momentum by organising the #FreePeriods protest in December 2017, which saw over 2,000 young people gather outside Downing Street, shouting about the government’s silence on period poverty. People of all ages and genders assembled, dressed in red, and waving banners emblazoned with period puns. As they chanted ‘What do we want? TAMPONS! When do we want them? SOME TIME THIS MONTH!’, it was beyond clear that the cry for change was loud and irrepressible.
Our protest resulted in the government allocating £1.5 million from the Tampon Tax Fund to address period poverty in the UK. This one-off pledge was not enough though, it is not a long-term, sustainable solution to period poverty in the UK.
The Free Periods Legal Campaign:
That’s why, this week, #FreePeriods launched a new legal campaign, the first of its kind in England, calling on the government to provide designated funding for free provision of menstrual products in all schools and colleges, to make sure that no child misses school because they cannot afford pads or tampons. The right to an education is a fundamental human right, and we believe that under the Equality Act, the government has a legal duty to ensure that all children have equal access to education, regardless of their socioeconomic background.
The campaign launches with a Crowdfunding drive to raise funds for legal action, with a requirement that £10k must be raised in 30 days for any of the pledges to be collected.
We believe that the government needs to step in by providing free products in all schools. Scotland has proven that it can be done, as the Scottish government made history last year by ensuring universal access to menstrual products in all schools, colleges and universities. Why can’t England follow suit?
We are working with Human Rights lawyers at Hausfeld & Co., who have said that this case could ensure that all children in the UK can go to school, unencumbered by their biology, and it could set a precedent for other governments worldwide to take action.
2019 has to be the year that we end the injustice of period poverty in the UK. Everyone should have equal access to education, and the opportunity to attend outstanding universities like Cambridge. Nothing should stop girls achieving their full potential: especially not periods.