When we first heard about the 21-year-old period poverty activist Amika George breaking barriers with her organisation, Free Periods, pride and inspiration went hand-in-hand in our hearts. Pride, because Amika George also has Indian roots. We felt inspired because to do what she did as a brown woman in the United Kingdom is not an easy task. So, when the news came out of her becoming the youngest recipient of the Queen's Birthday Honours, it was a cause of celebration of young women across the world, especially young Indian women and Indian-origin women who are thriving as immigrants and citizens of other nations across the world.
Free Periods was started by Ms George in April 2017. She was just 17 then. She started the organisation after she learnt about the students in the United Kingdom who would have to abstain from going to school several days every month due to lack of access to menstrual hygiene products.
She also led a protest outside Downing Street in London which had thousands of supporters, and more than 2.7 lakh signatures on a petition on Change.org, demanding the UK government provide period products free of cost for all students who avail free school meals.
However, according to a recent post on her Twitter handle, when Ms George found out that she was slated to receive the Queen's birthday honours, she felt "reluctant" to accept the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire). In a post on Twitter on June 12, 2021, Ms George wrote: "Being offered an MBE was surreal. I felt so lucky to be able to represent young people and everyone who has supported @free_periods, but the associations with empire made me reluctant."
Being offered an MBE was surreal.— Amika George (@AmikaGeorge) June 12, 2021
I felt so lucky to be able to represent young people and everyone who has supported @free_periods, but the associations with empire made me reluctant.
I wrote about my decision to accept it for @britishvogue ????https://t.co/L2FUuVfhPmpic.twitter.com/aFnEyv7Idi
She further elaborated on this sentiment in an article she wrote for British Vogue. She shared with readers how reading about Britain's colonial history and the aftermath of the Partition and the Indian freedom movement made her feel uncomfortable with the idea of accepting the Queen's Birthday Honours. Upon pondering on "racist exploitation, economic extraction and a continuing legacy of global division", Ms George said how the "empire" could be the most "shameful word" that she would be permanently attaching with her identity.
But soon after, she also realised the impact that her acceptance of the Queen's honours could have. In the first-person account for Vogue, she wrote: "I'm accepting this MBE on behalf of every single person who supported, signed, protested and donated to our cause. I don't see it as a reward for my personal achievements; it's an indication of our generation's irrepressible energy and hunger for transformative change... So, perhaps, as a young person of colour, I don't have the luxury of rejecting this MBE. The opportunity to represent my community and my family, to draw attention to the lack of colonial history in our education system, and highlight the stark underrepresentation of young people in political spaces, is one I can't let slip by."
Her Indian roots is a strong part of Ms George's identity, as is testified by this tweet.
My British-Asian identity is something I struggled with growing up, as I experienced a lot of cultural confusion and the feeling of ‘belonging nowhere' continued into my teenage years.— Amika George (@AmikaGeorge) October 24, 2020
Now, my identity is the thing I'm most proud of. pic.twitter.com/LORgIFrhGo
In her Vogue first-person account, Ms George mentioned her grandfather, who reminded her of the "long line of uncelebrated activists who have refused to let adversity slow them down, who have served their communities, often with no recognition or reward, and found strength and compassion even in the bleak face of racism, prejudice and cultural dislocation." She said she dedicates her MBE to them.
Ms George has inspired us not only by being the youngest recipient of the Queen's Birthday Honours but also by way of her reasoning behind accepting the honours.