Amika George: Meet The Student Campaigning For Free Tampons For Girls Who Can't Afford Them

An 18-year-old student who has become the face of a campaign calling for free menstrual products wants everyone, including men and boys, to talk about periods.

Amika George, a student from North London, started the #FreePeriods Campaign in the U.K. last year to end so-called "period poverty". The expression refers to women and girls who lack financial means to buy sanitary products.

One in ten girls in the U.K. is unable to afford sanitary wear, according to statistics by children's charity Plan International U.K. The organization also estimates that one in seven girls struggles to afford sanitary wear or needs to borrow it from a friend.

Upon learning the extent of the phenomenon in the U.K., Amika launched the petition to Conservative MP Justine Greening, and quickly gained more than 150,000 signatures.

Momentum was built around the issue and thousands of people took part in a peaceful demonstration last December calling on Prime Minister Theresa May to "provide free menstruation products for all girls already on free school meals."

In spite of the unexpected success of the movement, Amika believes more has to be done to ensure sanitary products become free of charge and stigma around menstruation ends.

"There is a huge problem with girls, women, boys, men. Literally everyone being just too afraid to talk about the most normal natural process that there is. The process that literally lets us reproduce," Amika told Newsweek.

Speaking about period poverty in the country, she said: "It's not always visible, but it's happening here and it's our girls that are too poor and can't afford an education, which is something we fought for and it's a real problem. That's why many people think that it's necessary to take action now."

Last year, Lucy Russell, U.K. Campaign Manager at Plan International U.K., said: "We applaud Amika George and the #FreePeriods campaign for their work to help bring the issue of period poverty to the attention of politicians and the media. For too many girls, dealing with their period each month is proving a tough challenge—and in 21st century Britain, this shouldn't be the case. As Amika says, this is not just about cost but also about the enduring stigma and embarrassment that surrounds periods."

Amika George
Amika George, a student from North London, started the #FreePeriods Campaign in the U.K. last year to end so-called "period poverty". The expression refers to women and girls who lack financial means to buy sanitary products. Chiara Brambilla for Newsweek

Period poverty not only in the U.K.

Debate around this issue in the U.K. began in 2014, when British student Laura Coryton launched her Stop Taxing Periods campaign, which gained 320,000 signatures.

As a result of the campaign, parliament accepted a tampon-tax-ending amendment proposed by Labour MP Paula Sherriff MP. The amendment is expected to be implemented in 2022.

Amika has raised the issue with the government and has already engaged with MPs across different parties. She is confident she will soon receive some concrete answers.

Meanwhile, she is planning to expand her campaign to other countries, including in Europe, where recent reports have cast light on the extent of period poverty.

"It's been discovered to be a problem all around Europe," Amika said. "There is a lot we believe that is not true. We are prosperous, there is no poverty in the U.K."

Period poverty affects several countries in the world, including developing nations, where women and girls often resort to using alternative methods, such as cloths, newspapers, ash and sand as an alternative.

In January, Indian campaigners planned to send 1,000 sanitary pads to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in protest over the government's decision to apply a 12 percent Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the items.

Activists argue that the move would further lead women and girls in rural areas, already struggling to afford sanitary products, to use other items during their menstrual cycle, putting their health at risk.