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When Amika George heard that girls in Britain were missing school because they couldn’t afford sanitary products, she was shocked into action. Here, the 17-year-old London student explains how her campaign – #FreePeriods – has ignited a debate, and looks set to bring positive change.

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Earlier this year, the BBC reported the findings of a Leeds-based charity, Freedom4Girls, which shook me and many others to the core. Girls as young as 11 were missing school every month for the simple reason that they couldn’t afford sanitary protection. The charity provides sanitary products to women abroad who can’t afford them. But this wasn’t just happening in rural parts of Africa, or the slums of Mumbai. It’s happening right here, in Britain. Shocking isn’t it? 

I decided to try and do something about it, so I started a campaign called #FreePeriods, calling on the government to provide free sanitary products to girls in need, to stop ‘period poverty’. Eight weeks in, more than 7600 people have signed the petition, demanding these girls be helped. 

The issue came to light in March when Freedom4Girls was approached for donations by a local school. Teachers there had noticed some girls were absent around the same time every month. It transpired they couldn’t afford sanitary products and it was easier for them to stay at home rather than face the possibility, a humiliating one, of leaking in front of their peers. 

The girls who’ve contacted me to tell their stories have made me see just how widespread and damaging this issue is. I have shed many a tear reading their accounts. 

In many cases, the girls’ parents can barely afford to provide food for their children, so sanitary care is something they have to do without. Many don’t even dare ask. Some have to make a pad last two days. One young girl told me how she would stay at home during her period and would stuff toilet roll into sports socks; her makeshift protection would cause discomfort and rashes, but what was the alternative? 

Missing school regularly creates gaps in learning, and educational achievement is subsequently compromised. How do these students ever escape from the cycle of poverty and deprivation? It is so important these girls meet no obstacles in their learning and can go to school with confidence, and without stress or fear of bleeding over their clothes.  

The #FreePeriods campaign is making waves, thanks to the support of those who are shouting for change. Inspired by the campaign, the Green Party, Women’s Equality Party and LibDems have all lent their support in pledging to end period poverty. Also Cherie Blair, London mayor Sadiq Khan and many others have said they are proud of what we are achieving together.
 
I am meeting Baroness Burt of Solihull to discuss how to bring this issue to parliament, and the more signatures we have, the greater the chance of eliciting real change.   

Apart from signing the petition, I would love all CPs to be on the lookout for girls who may not be adequately protected during their period. They may be the anxious ones, who find it difficult to focus, or who keep rushing to the loo but won’t ask for help. We need to normalise period issues. I’m encouraging people to write to their MPs. 

Please help these girls by also signing the petition link below, and then sharing it with everyone you know. Girls should not have to choose between their education and their period, and it’s time for the government to consign period poverty to history. If we all shout enough, they will have to listen! 


You can add your support to the #FreePeriods campaign to provide free sanitary protection to girls who are entitled to free school meals, by signing here: bit.ly/FreePeriods


 

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