Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017: The teenager fighting against period poverty

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Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
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Amika George, 18, started a period-poverty campaign in the spring. Her petition, which asks that girls on free school meals be granted free sanitary products, has gathered 83,000 signatures and support from MPs and celebrities. She is leading a #FreePeriods protest near Parliament Square, London, on 20 December.     

“It started one morning just before school, while watching the news. It was a story about girls of 10 and 11 years old missing up to a week of school every month because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. They used this term, ‘period poverty’, that was unknown to me. So many people in the UK – including myself before I heard about this – are quite ignorant about the level of poverty in the UK. I’d never spoken to or heard of anyone who suffered anything like that, and these were girls my age or younger.

I looked into it and there were girls using toilet paper, socks or newspaper – horrific alternatives that are detrimental to their health. That shocked me and made me think that something had to be done.

I had the idea of providing free menstrual products to all girls on free school meals. The government already has a list of them, so it wouldn’t be an embarrassing thing with them having to come forward. It would be discreet. Scotland has already been running a trial of a similar thing.

I made a #FreePeriods petition on and my aim is to get to 100,000: that’s how many you need for it to be considered for debate. So far the government has just ignored me. Labour and the Greens have been supportive. The government said it’s for schools to do something about, but schools don’t have enough money at the moment.”

“Since starting the campaign, so many women and girls have come forward and said ‘This is me now’ or ‘This was me when I was younger’. The protest on 20 December is a way of gathering people who care about period poverty, and there will be speakers such as MP Jess Phillips and hopefully some YouTubers, too. I’m more excited about it than Christmas.

I’m hoping the government will do something so I won’t have to keep fighting. We have to be open and talk about periods. I want to see the taboo destroyed. If Theresa May were reading this, I would ask her to stop ignoring the issue.

We have to get these girls back to school. She’s obviously had a period, and will know that it’s not easy at all if you’ve ever been caught without a pad, tampon or any other menstrual product. It’s hard to go for a few hours without them; to go for a whole month is completely unimaginable.

People have fought so hard for girls to get the same education as boys, and for something like periods to hold them back, I think it is ridiculous.”

To celebrate the best in people, Stylist photographed and interviewed 10 heroic women – just a few of the many who served to inspire us all in 2017. To see the rest of our Women of the Year 2017, click here.

Photography: Mark Harrison.