Amika George started the #FreePeriods movement in April 2017, when she was just 17 years old. After reading a news story claiming one in 10 girls were struggling to afford pads and tampons (resulting in them missing up to a week of school every month), Amika launched a social media campaign demanding the government support girls who were missing out on the right to an education. The campaign resulted in over 2,000 people protesting outside Parliament in December 2017. After launching a legal case with her campaign partners The Red Box Project against the government to demand that girls on free school meals should also be granted free sanitary products, Amika (now 20) achieved her goal. On 9 March 2018, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond committed to ending period poverty and intends to launch a scheme in September to ensure no girl misses out on an education because of period poverty. Here, Amika shares what she wants people to know about making change happen…
1. Don’t wait for someone else to make change
If you see something that makes you angry or resonates with you, don’t wait for someone else to do something about it.
If you don’t start from somewhere, you don’t know the impact you can actually have and when you set your sights on what really matters to you, time is on your side.
2. Think big from the outset
Don’t confine yourself or think things aren’t achievable.
We often think if we’re just one person we can’t make an impact. It’s important to be ambitious and not limit yourself to what you think you can or can’t do.
3. Find a community
Start talking to your friends and family – people who feel as strongly as you do about the issue and who’ll help you along the way.
Having an immediate group around you means you can pool your different resources and skill sets. That’s what I did with the protest at Downing Street – organising it with some incredible women from The Pink Protest made me realise none of us could have done it on our own. By working together, we made an impact. Even the actual protest was 2,000 people coming together and making a change.
4. Organise IRL (in real life) events
Get people together and galvanise each other. Be part of the movement.
There’s a lot that can be said for social media – for me, it was amazing to see so much enthusiasm from young girls. They were putting the #FreePeriods link in their Instagram and Twitter bios, trying to get as much support as possible. It’s an incredible way to get your message out to the masses.
It can be hard to translate that support into real life, but organising a protest that requires people to physically turn up shows just how many people you can reach. It’s really valuable if you want to get some attention.
And it’s far harder to ignore a mass of people than it is to ignore a hashtag.
5. Don’t be afraid to contact anyone and everyone
Be shameless when it comes to bugging people.
I found that out, especially at the beginning of my campaign when no one really knew about it. At first, I felt embarrassed emailing the same people eight times, asking them to tweet the campaign.
My local MP didn’t reply. I sent him around five or six emails and he never responded. But I didn’t stop contacting him just because he wasn’t giving me the time of day. As soon as I said I was organising a protest, he did respond.
If your campaign is political, reach out to politicians and ask for their support. Your local MP should care about any social issues you raise. If you can get their support, the better the impact.
And don’t be afraid to reach out to celebrities and influencers – those with a large following on social media talking about what you’re doing gets the issue out there.
6. Connect with people from different generations
It’s a misconception only the young care enough to protest, or that the older you are the more complacent you get.
Make sure your campaign doesn’t just reflect the kind of person you are. Make it accessible and value everyone’s voice and input.
When it comes to period poverty, I’ve found that people who don’t menstruate (particularly teenage boys) have been just as enthusiastic about the problem. They want to get involved, talk about the campaign and help out.
Also, make sure you have a range of different perspectives. The way you present the issue shouldn’t be confined to somebody who shares the same views as you.
7. Arm yourself with facts
I found a lot of criticism of my campaign came from people online saying, “That’s ridiculous. Of course period poverty isn’t an issue in the UK – we’re the world’s fifth largest economy, so there’s no way this is actually happening.”
But research proves otherwise. As soon as people are faced with that, it’s hard to deny it.
So, arm yourself with cold, hard facts to help prove just how urgent the issue is.
8. Learn from those who came before you
I learnt a lot from the #EndTamponTax campaign by Laura Coryton. It really shaped how I approached what I wanted to achieve.
We are going through such an amazing time with so many online campaigns and social media initiatives that are completely accessible, as well as being able to research movements throughout history quickly and easily. You can definitely get a lot of inspiration and ideas from their successes – and even their failures.
9. Ignore the haters
Social media can be a breeding ground for positivity, but it can also amplify the opposite.
I found people wouldn’t take my campaign seriously because it was run by a teenage girl. They thought my age was a weakness and didn’t take me seriously, but I just ignored them.
All the hate I’ve received has been online. It’s mainly been on Twitter, with people saying stuff like, “She’s just a typical teenager who wants everything for free”. There are horrible generalisations and assumptions, too – “I’m sure all these girls have iPhones” or, “I’m sure all the parents are just wasting all their money on cigarettes and alcohol”.
You should ignore that kind of thing. There’s no point letting it get to you or slow down your mission to make change. You will prove them all wrong.
10. Be relentless
Even if you don’t see tangible change happening immediately, it doesn’t mean it will never happen. Keep going and have faith in yourself.
Remind yourself why you started campaigning, and why you care so much about the issue. I find that looking at my petition and seeing nearly 250,000 people have signed it really motivates me.
Never give up, even if it’s taking longer than you expected it to. Remember: there’s a huge value in what you’re trying to do.