An End To Period Poverty In Scotland

On November 24 2020, Scotland made a historic move to end period poverty for women and girls throughout the country, the Scotsman reports. M.P.S. unanimously voted to provide free access to tampons and sanitary pads to all those in need after a long-running campaign. Two years ago, Scotland made history when it began providing free sanitary products to student in schools, colleges and universities. England and Wales followed suit and also provided free sanitary products in schools, reports The New York Times. Scotland’s four year-long campaign to end period poverty has fundamentally shifted the public discourse around menstruation, The Guardian reports.

Monica Lennon, Scotland’s Labour health spokeswomen who spearheaded the campaign for The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act 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 change of period dignity,” The Guardian reports. Women’s menstrual cycles have long been a taboo conversation and cast aside as a ‘women’s issues’. However, women and girls having access to sanitary products must be understood as a fundamental human right. Scotland has changed the way in which menstruation is discussed in public, and has made important steps to end period poverty.

So what is period poverty? The Royal College of Nursing define it as the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. They reported that 1 in 10 girls in the U.K. are unable to afford sanitary products; 1 in 7 have to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues; and 1 in 10 have to improvise sanitary wear. Additionally, it is estimated that over 137,000 children across the U.K. have missed school days due to period poverty. During the coronavirus pandemic, period poverty has considerably risen during lockdown. Due to families facing unprecedented financial struggles with more people facing unemployment, women and girls have faced period poverty more than ever. The BBC reported that during lockdown women and girls have resorted to using items including newspapers, pillow cases and tea towels as they are left unable to afford sanitary products. Tina Leslie who runs the Leeds-based charity Freedom4Girls said, “if you can’t manage your periods your emotional mental health plummets… The level of deprivation and poverty and people not able to afford products has been growing slowly, but this has just exacerbated the issue and I don’t think it’s going to get better any time soon.”

Period poverty is not simple a ‘women’s issue.’ It is a global pandemic that is most certainly violating the rights of women and girls across the world. UNICEF have reported that 2.3 billion people live without basic sanitation services and in developing countries, and only 27% of people have adequate hand-washing facilities at home. This makes it increasingly difficult for women and girls to manage their periods safely and with the dignity they deserve. In order to tackle period stigma and help and protect women and girls, boys and men also need to be educated on menstruation. This will ensure healthy habits are encouraged and the stigma around menstruation is broken. Global Citizen said, “achieving menstrual equity means access to sanitary products, proper toilets, hand-washing facilities, sanitation and hygiene education, and waste management for people around the world.”

Not having access to sanitary products leads to poor menstrual hygiene and can cause physical health risks, such as urinary tract infections. It also stops women and girls from reaching their full potential as they are at risk of missing out on opportunities. Periods are natural, but the way in which so many women and girls have to manage them, is not. England and Wales providing free sanitary products in schools is an excellent step in the right direction, but it is not enough. What about homeless women, single mothers, vulnerable adults, trans people, women and girls in exploitative situations… do they not deserve the same dignity? Women and girls around the world already face extraordinary inequalities, but they should not be punished for the most natural process.

Katie Clarke