A student who fought for free period products to be provided at schools so that children do not miss out on their education says she is humbled by her MBE, but had to think twice before accepting it.
Amika George, 21, of Edgware, north-west London, is the founder of the #FreePeriods Campaign and has been made an MBE for services to education – the youngest recipient in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.
She was 17 and in her first year of A-levels at school when she started the campaign and discovered this summer that she was getting the honour as she finished her history degree at Cambridge University.
Her campaign to tackle period poverty, where young people have to miss out on school because they do not have sanitary products, was sparked because she was “shocked it was something that anyone had to face in the UK”.
She continues to raise awareness of period poverty in the UK and globally.
Ms George, who finished her history exams this week where she studied Indian colonial history and Britain’s ties to the slave trade, said she saw an email offering her the MBE, which left her “surprised and stunned” by the honour.
Ms George, who is from an Indian background, told the PA news agency: “It wasn’t an obvious decision to accept it.
“I did feel quite uncomfortable in accepting an award that would make me a Member of the British Empire. It was a horrific and exploitative endeavour, and I think there is a real lack of awareness around the history of that.
“When I got that email I was thrown into a bit of self-reflection where I asked myself `do I want this tied to my name?’
“The reason I did decide it was really important for me to accept it is because I am in a unique position. I am very aware of my identity as a young person of colour who is not hugely represented in politics, campaigning and activism.
“I have a huge opportunity in accepting the award to draw attention to our lack of education around empire and Britain’s history, but also to show other young people, particularly from the Asian community, who maybe don’t feel very empowered politically or don’t feel seen.
“I want to show them that your opinions and political actions are just as valid and needed as an older white man who seems to be in parliament and seems to have a lot more power than you do.”
She started her campaign, which called on the Government to give free menstrual products to children, in 2017 and by the end of that year a protest outside Downing Street was attended by more than 2,000 young people and there was a petition with 180,000 signatures.
Ms George said: “I was completely bewildered that there were people who were missing school for up to a week every month because of lack of access to period products.
“I was stressed with doing my A-levels, my friendships and being a teenager, but I thought `if I had to face that struggle every month, I don’t know how I would have got through it’.
“It was an issue that hit me like no other issue had and it turned from shock to anger.”
At the beginning of 2019, her campaign became a formal organisation and she began working with lawyers to launch a legal case seeking to get the products provided in school.
The court case did not happen in the end as months later the Government committed to funding period products in every single state school and college in England.
The scheme began in 2020 with schools and colleges being able to order in as many products they need but Covid-19 has meant that period poverty had increased during the pandemic, she claims.
Ms George said pupils were able to pick the products up at their local school during lockdown but the scheme suffered from a lack of awareness, and “I think that period poverty became worse. Hopefully, it is getting better now”.
She plans a break as she feels “exhausted” after spending most of the past five years trying to balance activism and study.
Friends Clegg Bamber and Anna Miles are also receiving MBEs for their work on the Red Box Project which has delivered free period products in schools across the country.
In a joint statement, they said: “It is incredibly important to us both that we share this recognition with every single person who volunteered their time and in doing so, ensured that no young person, in their community, was prevented from accessing the education they deserve because they did not have access to menstrual products.”
They added: “Standing up and fighting for equality has always been deeply entrenched in every action we undertake and we continue to work globally, with astounding teams who wish to see the changes made across the UK.”