Marking International Women’s Day, HuffPost UK is launching a new weekly video series, celebrating women who have pushed for progress in the past 12 months and asking them what we need to do in the year ahead.
Gina Martin, Nimco Ali and Amika George have made great strides to improve things for their gender – whether by changing laws, raising awareness, or educating others – but they all agree there’s so much more to do.
We asked them what they are most proud of and what’s next on their to-do list - make sure to check out their videos, launching on 8 March.
‘I Want To See Women Pushing For Things Without Asking Permission’
On 15 January, after 18 months of campaigning, Gina Martin received the news she’d been waiting for: her upskirting bill had passed and would be made law.
This meant anyone caught taking photos under someone’s clothing – as happened to Martin at a music festival in Hyde Park in 2017 – could now be fined or face up to two years in prison and put on the sexual offenders’ register.
The 27-year-old writer and activist spent the past 12 months canvassing MPs, telling them why they should support her work, despite having no previous legal or political experience.
“Something had switched in me, I was angry, I was so bored of brushing stuff off because it lives with you,” she says. “So I got a lawyer and got political.”
But it hasn’t been easy. Martin received hundreds of rape and death threats on social media, and found the Houses of Parliament uninviting. “Spaces like that aren’t set up to invite people like me in, there are corridors full of photos of 60-year-old white guys in suits,” she says. “I won’t ever forget how hard I found the whole process.”
Now the law has passed, does she intend to take a step back from the limelight? Not if her recent decision to quit her full-time job is anything to go by. “You don’t change attitudes with a law, so there’s work to be done in education around sexual violence,” she says.
Martin wants to spend the next year addressing the hostile environment she found online, and help end abuse against women and minorities. She will also be partnering with music brands to help them make festivals and big events safer spaces for female fans.
“Sometimes we can be overwhelmed by everything we want to change, but the cure for that is action because you meet people doing good things – the ones who work quietly while the hate and the bad things are loud,” she says.
‘I Spend Every Day Engaging Privileged White Men In Caring About Young Brown Girls’ Vaginas’
The past year has been busy for Nimco Ali. Not only was she instrumental in getting the UK government to commit to spending £50,000,000 on ending FGM (female genital mutilation) over the next five years, but she’s also been tirelessly committed to changing the conversation around the subject.
The 35-year-old Somali activist underwent FGM herself at the age of seven. “That whole process showed me that I was used to being talked at, or talked about, but no one ever talked to me,” she says. “I wanted to be someone who actually did something and was listened to. We’re always looking for someone to be something and then you realise you might actually be that somebody.”
Not only has Ali convinced the government to put its money where its mouth is, she’s also helped show the importance of adding FGM to the UK curriculum – from 2020, all secondary school children (not just high-risk groups) will be taught about FGM in the context of violence against women and girls.
The UN made ending FGM worldwide one of its sustainable development goals – a goal which they aim to complete by 2030 – and released the first official figures on the numbers affected by the practice. It suggests between now and 2030, there are 68 million girls at risk of being harmed by FGM, a statistic Ali believes will change people’s attitudes.
“If you show people the numbers, show them how this is hurting their economy and GDP, we start to see a generation who can change things,” she says.
Ali wants to get FGM added to the 2004 Children’s Act – the law that safeguards children in the UK, and would recognise FGM as a form of child abuse. This would mean it was easier to get protection orders.
‘It Was Proof That Activism Can Be Effective, But We Need So Much More’
Amika George was just 17 when she started her campaign, #FreePeriods. She called on the government to address period poverty in the UK, to help girls who are missing out on education because they can’t afford sanitary products.
She was outraged that families were having to choose between eating and buying pads for their daughters. “Girls are having to make their own from toilet paper or even newspaper, facing a huge amount of stress and anxiety,” she says. “No girl should be held back because of her period.”
Now, two years later, George’s campaign has reached nationwide status and she is making real progress: it was announced last week women and girls in hospitals will now be offered free tampons and pads from summer 2019.
“It’s about time, especially when shaving kits have been handed out on wards for free for so long,” says George. “It will alleviate so much stress for women who can’t depend on family or friends to bring pads to hospital for them.”
This wasn’t the only success in the last 12 months for George, a student at Cambridge University. She has reached over 270,000 names on a petition lobbying the government to give out free products to those in need, and George was also a key figure in persuading the government to give £1.5 million of tampon tax (the VAT paid on sanitary products) to charities to help tackle the issue of period poverty.
She believes people want to talk about period poverty now. “We really are starting to normalise the conversation around it,” she adds. “Very slowly, boys and men are becoming engaged whereas a year ago, I don’t think that was the case.”
George has just started a legal campaign calling on the government to comply with existing legal obligations under the Equalities Act, and she’s asking politicians to fund schools so they can provide free period products to whoever needs them. “It’s been amazing to have so much support so far and I feel really hopeful about a future where no girl is at a disadvantage because of her period.”
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