Free Periods! In Conversation With Scarlett Curtis and Amika George
Have you ever heard of 'Period Poverty'? If you haven't, you're not alone — I hadn't either. But Amika George and Scarlett Curtis have and they want to do something about it. Scarlett is a pink-haired, smart, driven millennial who writes for the Sunday Times and runs The Pink Protest, and activism-based platform. Scarlett said, "The Pink Protest is a community of activists committed to engaging in action and supporting each other. Our main focuses are producing content to support campaigns and utilizing social media as well as IRL spaces to make change happen. I decided to start it a year ago after getting very involved with some of the grassroots activism in New York following the election. I kept hearing people say they felt like they weren’t ‘doing enough’ and I’m really interested in exploring ways to lower the bar that stops people from getting involved with activism."
When 17 year old Amika George launched the 'Free Periods' campaign to end period poverty, The Pink Protest took notice and supported her efforts in calling out the United Kingdom's Prime Minister, Theresa May. Amika launched the project from her bedroom and the campaign has already gathered 75,000 signatures, with a protest planned for December in an effort to get the government's attention. When asked about the importance of young people in politics, both, Amika and Scarlett, reiterated the importance of activism, with Scarlett stating how she hopes to see the voting age lowered to 16 in the U.K and Amika speaking on the importance of social media and young people realizing they can change the status quo and create real change.
When I asked Amika about the first time she heard the term 'period poverty', she said, "Back in March I read about a BBC report that discovered girls in the UK were missing school because they couldn't afford to have their period. I learnt that a wonderful charity, called Freedom 4 Girls, was asked to divert sanitary products from Kenya to Leeds. It took me aback because until then, I couldn't believe that there were such desperate and abject levels of poverty in the UK. What's more, I was stunned that, despite us finding out that period poverty was rife in the UK, the government hadn't committed to any action." It's hard to believe women in developed countries are dealing with what seems such an antiquated issue, but the reality is, young girls across the UK are struggling to get through menstruation with health and dignity. So, young, badass, ambitious Amika decided to create the 'Free Periods project.
"At first it was to lobby the government to ensure that all girls on free school meals, those who are from the lowest-income families, are given free sanitary products. Many girls who are struggling with period poverty live with families where there often isn't food on the table and it's clear that if there isn't enough money for food, it is unlikely that there is enough cash for sanitary products. I am also trying to normalize periods, to initiate conversation around periods and to end the stigma and silence around it. It's likely that if we are comfortable talking about menstruation, girls who are suffering with period poverty are more likely to come forward to ask for help. Our bodies are wonderful and should be celebrated, and periods are a symbol of the extraordinary power of the female body, yet there is such a culture of shame around periods. We must change this."
The stigma around menstruation is a real one. Women are taught to hide their tampons or pads up their sleeves when going to the bathroom out of fear of mockery. Menstruation is used as an excuse to shame women for having emotions, bad days, and opinions. The fact that we give out free condoms to boys, but refuse to give free sanitary products to young women really tells us something about the way society perceives male and female sexuality. The Pink Protest and Amika have partnered to shed light on this issue and demand government action. Their mission is to make sure that sanitary products are seen as necessary, not a luxury, because periods are not a choice, they a natural part of having a uterus. Because these products are not accessible to all women, it is hindering their futures and making them miss school, leading to missed opportunities and decreases the chance of furthering their careers and ending the poverty cycle that they may be living in. Breaking that cycle could start with something as simple as free tampons being offered in schools.
To take part in this amazing initiative, you can go to freeperiods.org and sign their petition. You can also tweet U.K. politician Justine Greening and, if in the UK, you can participate in the protest taking place December 20th on Parliament Square. But, most importantly, you can start talking about menstruation and periods. We need to end the stigma and support young women into feeling comfortable with a bodily function that is natural and inevitable. Free Periods for all.
Free Periods x The Pink Protest
Inés Mendonça is a writer and intern for Pink Things.