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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

21-yr-old with Kerala roots on MBE list for ‘period poverty’ activism

“It wasn’t an easy one for me with the Honours system’s association to the (British) Empire and our colonial past,” says the 21-year-old History student at University of Cambridge whose parents hail from Kerala.

Written by Sonal Gupta | New Delhi |
Updated: June 14, 2021 7:49:29 am
Amika George. (Source: Twitter/@AmikaGeorge)

WHEN SHE was picked as the youngest recipient of the Queen’s Birthday Honours this year for pushing the UK government to provide free period products in schools and colleges, Amika George found herself in a spot.

“It wasn’t an easy one for me with the Honours system’s association to the (British) Empire and our colonial past,” says the 21-year-old History student at University of Cambridge whose parents hail from Kerala.

But then, she decided “it’s really important for me to show that young people have power in our voices, much more than we realise”.

“We have often been overlooked in political spaces, and the MBE shows that we are slowly being recognised as real changemakers who can influence government,” she says.

“That change doesn’t have to be done from within the walls of Westminster, or the White House, or the Indian Parliament. Anyone can orchestrate change. I would like young people of colour to see that we are being recognised, and that if we are willing to jump from a place of safety and rise up, we can create something better,” she says.

George was picked for an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in education for her campaign against period poverty, #FreePeriods, which she started at the age of 17. She says it made her angry that “there were girls in the UK who were missing school every month because they were too poor to afford period products”.

Following her efforts, which included starting a petition and meeting with ministers, the UK government in 2020 funded educational institutes to provide free period products. Free Periods is now a not-for-profit organisation, which continues to fight “against the taboo and shame surrounding menstruation”.

George says she is accepting the award “on behalf of my family and community who have silently had to tolerate racism over decades, who felt like they never fitted in, who never felt British enough, who never felt seen”.

While George and her brother were born and brought up in the UK, their father Kishore hails from Pathanamthitta and mother Nisha from Kozhencherry.

“We’re really pleased,” says Nisha. “We have seen Amika work hard, juggling between academics and her campaign over the last four years. She was single-minded about achieving a goal, and we’re happy that she has been recognised this way.”

As parents, Nisha says, they felt protective of Amika “because she just put herself out there, talking about something that most people feel uncomfortable with”.

An MBE is the third highest ranking Order of the British Empire award. This year, 1,129 people have been named for an Order of the British Empire award, of which 50 per cent are women, and 15 per cent of an ethnic minority.

“The Birthday Honours List 2021 is the most ethnically diverse list to date,” a press release by the UK government states.

Says George: “I couldn’t be prouder today to be a young British Indian.”

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