Scotland Becomes The First Nation To Make Period Products Free, Pioneering The Fight Against Period Poverty

As of November 24th, Scotland became the first nation to provide free and universal access to sanitary products to all women, becoming a pioneer in tackling period poverty. The Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to pass the Period Products (Free Provision) Bill, which will require local authorities to provide free access to sanitary items including tampons and sanitary pads at designated public places such as youth clubs, community centres, and pharmacies at an estimated annual cost to taxpayers of 24 million pounds.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, tweeted shortly after the passing of the bill that she was “proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation” in this “important policy for women and girls.” In 2018, Scotland had become the first nation to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges, and universities through a government program, which Wales and England followed in the footsteps of in 2019 with similar programs. A 2017 Plan International survey had shown that roughly ten per cent of girls in the U.K. were unable to afford sanitary products, resulting in many skipping classes.

Period poverty refers to the lack of access to basic sanitary products, menstrual education, and hygienic spaces to manage menstrual bleeding. Studies have estimated that women spend an average of $13.25 per month on period products and over $6,000 over a lifetime. But it is not solely the cost of the products that have been an issue. Circumstances such as poverty, homelessness, abusive relationships, gender identity, and some health conditions in the U.K. make it more difficult for women and girls to manage their periods safely and with dignity. Period poverty has also surged during the coronavirus pandemic, as a study published by Plan International U.K. has shown.  

Monica Lennon, the Scottish Parliament member who had proposed the bill, said, “On the issue of period dignity, I am beyond proud that Scotland is leading the way.” She added, “We have got there because we have worked together. We have shown that this parliament can be a force for progressive change when we collaborate.” The Labour MSP has been working on tackling period poverty since 2016.

Scotland’s Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell hailed the passing of the legislation as a “significant moment for gender equality,” and that “this legislation will do much to advance equality and social justice here in Scotland and elsewhere, as other countries seek to follow our path.”

Menstruation is a natural fact of life and a monthly occurrence for the 1.8 billion girls, women, transgender men, and non-binary persons. Yet the issue of period poverty and menstrual hygiene management is one of the often neglected health and hygiene issues surrounding their rights. Gender inequality, discriminatory social norms, lack of menstrual education, cultural taboos, poverty, and lack of basic services often halts the dignified and healthy management of girls’ and women’s menstrual health and hygiene and is directly related to gender-based violence, child marriage, and school dropout rates. Poor menstrual hygiene has also been linked to reproductive and urinary tract infections, according to UNICEF. 

Moreover, globally, the cost of period products is enhanced with the tampon tax, also known as the “pink tax,” taxing on period products as luxury items and contributing to period poverty. For instance in the U.S., 35 states tax period products as non-essential items, whereas men’s erectile dysfunction medications and grooming products are not taxed, and food stamps do not cover sanitary products for women living below the poverty line. In India, only 12 per cent of menstruators have access to period products, leaving the rest to use unsafe materials such as rags and sawdust, as reported by the Indian Ministry of Health. According to UNICEF, many families in Bangladesh are often torn between purchasing food or period products and often end up using old clothing. 

For such reasons, which put girls and women at disadvantageous and risky positions due to a perfectly normal biological process, Scotland’s Period Products (Free Provision) Act marks an important advance in history, both symbolically and practically, which hopefully other countries will follow in the footsteps of as Secretary Campbell said.