Her #FreePeriods campaign that brought her granddad and 2,000 other protestors on Downing Street in the UK in December 2017 to demand free sanitary products for poor girls in school won 18-year-old Amika George one of the three Goalkeepers Global Goals Awards, popularly known as the Oscars for social progress.
The other awards at the ceremony in New York on Tuesday night went to Nadia Murad, 24, a Yazidi survivor of Islamic State (IS) genocide in Iraq, and Dysmus Kisilu, 28, whose renewable energy solutions increased yields of small farmers in Kenya by 150%.
Goalkeepers was started by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2017 to propel global action and track progress on the United Nation’s Sustainable Developmental Goals. French president Emmanuel Macron, women and children’s rights activist Graça Machel, writer-activist Richard Curtis, musician King Kaka, and actor Stephen Fry were among the speakers this year.
George won the Campaign Award for a youth-led campaign that led to the UK government granting 1.5 million pounds to end ‘period poverty’ that prevented many girls from low-income families from attending school. Indian-origin George has lived all her life in the UK, where her grandparents moved from Kerala.
“It’s a taboo subject in every country, we are punished for bleeding. I started my campaign in April 2017 after watching a news report about how girls missed school because they can’t afford pads and tampons. One in 10 girls in the UK can’t afford sanitary napkins, shows a study by Plan International. I had never suffered period poverty, I was shocked it was happening in the UK. Girls were using newspapers, socks, old newspaper… I was horrified that the government wasn’t acting on it,” said George on the sidelines of the awards ceremony on Tuesday, where British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus performed.
Her campaign had started as an online petition, which led to a protest on Downing Street in December 2017. “It was cold, a few days before Christmas, and I was there with my grandpa, brother and mum and dad wondering whether anyone would turn up at all. But it was amazing, thousands of girls and boys showed up,” she said. “I’ve never done something this big, the enthusiasm among young people through the campaign was amazing,” said George, who joins Cambridge University to study history on Saturday.
She now wants free sanitary products for all girls, and not just girls from low-income families getting free school lunch in the UK. “All women have periods, across countries and religions, it shouldn’t keep them from school or affect their lives for five days every month,” she said.
The Changemaker Award went to Nadia Murad, who was abducted by the IS after they killed 18 of her family in Sinjar in Iraq in the genocide of the Yazidi people in 2014. Murad escaped captivity to become the voice of the Yazidi people, including 13,000 Yazidi women still enslaved by the IS. She is the UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.
The Progress Award winner is Dysmus Kisilu, who developed a low-cost cold chain called Solar Freeze that helped increase farm yield of more than 3,000 small farmers in Kenya by 150%. He also runs the ‘Each one, Teach one’ skills-transfer campaign that mentors 18-29 year olds to operate and maintain renewable energy equipment.
“These awards celebrate the best of what we do. Progress is absolutely happening but it is not inevitable and this year’s big focus is on youth and the innovations that can change things in communities,” said Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which published the Goalkeepers report last week that said one billion people have come out of poverty since 2000, but rapid population growth in the world’s poorest countries threaten to slow or even reverse the gains.
Investing in the health and education of young people can unlock productivity and innovation, create opportunities and cut poverty, leading to a “third wave” of poverty reduction in Africa, following the first wave in China and the second in India, said Goalkeepers: The Stories Behind the Data 2018 report released last week.