This week, a bill brought forward by Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon was unanimously approved by MSPs at the Scottish Parliament, bringing about the legal right to equal access to products such as tampons and sanitary pads. Scotland is the first country in the world to do so.
Ms Lennon has campaigned to end period poverty since 2016 and finally the Bill was passed by 121 votes to zero. Lennon explains how crucial this movement has been during the coronavirus pandemic, she said: “Periods don’t stop for pandemics and the work to improve access to essential tampons, pads and reusables has never been more important.”
The Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill introduces a fundamental and legal right to free access to tampons and sanitary pads, in schools, colleges, universities and other public facilities.
This new law will help to ensure that no one in Scotland struggles to afford period products, as one in ten girls in the UK have been unable to afford period products at some point. Rose Caldwell, chief executive of the charity Plan International UK, a global children’s charity, believes the legislation would be vital saying;
“Period poverty is driven by a ‘toxic trio’ of issues, which on top of the cost of period products, includes a lack of education and the stigma and shame surrounding menstruation. We know, for example, that only a third (31%) of girls in Scotland feel comfortable asking teachers for period products in school.That’s why, alongside free products, we need education and training for girls, schools and parents to help tackle the stigma and embarrassment around periods as well as the cost.”
A study published by Plan International UK, has shown that almost a third of girls and women aged 14 to 21 had problems either being able to afford or gaining access to sanitary products during the first national lockdown this year.
Scotland made history two years ago when it started offering free sanitary products through a government initiative to students at schools, colleges and universities. Wales and England followed with similar initiatives in schools last year that offer free sanitary items. The Bill was introduced last year, after years of campaigning to end period poverty and Ms Lennon hopes it will inspire other countries;
“Scotland is an example of best practice, and there is an opportunity for other countries around the world to learn from what we have achieved on period poverty in just a few short years. Scotland will not be the last country to make period poverty history – but it now has a chance to be the first.”
Scotland’s Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell too hopes that this will inspire others and become a “significant moment for gender equality”. She said “This legislation will do much to advance equality and social justice here in Scotland and elsewhere, as other countries seek to follow our path.”
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, posted on Twitter shortly after the vote on Tuesday to share the success;
Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them. An important policy for women and girls. Well done to @MonicaLennon7 @ClydesdAileen and all who worked to make it happen https://t.co/4lckZ4ZYIY
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 24, 2020
Previous research from the Women for Independence grassroots group revealed that almost one in five women suffered from period poverty, which has a significant impact on their hygiene, health and well-being. Period poverty is when those on low incomes can’t afford, or access, suitable period products. It is estimated that women spend an average of £13 per month on regular products equaling several thousand pounds over a lifetime, and some women struggle to afford the cost.
Lennon said: “This will make a massive difference to the lives of women and girls and everyone who menstruates. There has already been great progress at a community level and through local authorities in giving everyone the chance of period dignity…There has been a massive change in the way that periods are discussed in public life. A few years ago there had never been an open discussion of menstruation in the Holyrood chamber and now it is mainstream.”
The Bill as introduced proposes different ways to make period products (like sanitary pads and tampons) available for free to people who need them.
Under the Bill:
- the Scottish Government must set up a Scotland-wide scheme to allow anyone who needs period products to get them free of charge
- schools, colleges and universities must make a range of period products available for free, in their toilets
- the Scottish Government will have the power to make other public bodies provide period products for free