Scotland has moved to provide free sanitary products to students in all schools and universities across the country, in a £5.2 million program that aims to end “period poverty,” an issue that can force those that are unable to afford sanitary products to periodically miss school, work, or social activities.
The first country to do so, Scotland will provide free, essential sanitary products to 395,000 students every month beginning in September of this year. The decision has been met with support from a number of politicians who have reportedly attempted to encourage similar programs throughout the United Kingdom. Ireland’s Labour Party equality spokeswoman Deirdre Kingston has stated that Ireland’s government should also “seek to follow Scotland’s lead.”
The decision is particularly important in a world in which for a variety of reasons, many people feel ashamed or uncomfortable while menstruating; a direct result of living in a society that encourages these feelings by not openly discussing or normalizing menstruation. The reality of this shame and stigma means that many miss out on life while menstruating. This can be a result of the unaffordability of sanitary products, largely due to a “tampon tax” in which in many parts of the world, sanitary products are taxed as a luxury, “nonessential” items/goods making them unaffordable for low-income households. A lack of adequate (access to) women’s health education along with access to clean bathrooms for women and sanitary products (in developing and developed nations) can also deny much access to schools and workplaces.
In 2017, research carried out by children’s charity Plan International U.K. found that in the U.K., one in ten girls are routinely unable to afford sanitary products and one in seven have struggled to afford sanitary products at some point in their lives. Around twelve percent of girls have been forced to “improvise sanitary wear due to affordability issues.”
The research also looked at the shame and stigma surrounding periods and found that of the one thousand 14-21-year-old girls surveyed, 49% had missed a full day of school due to their period, and 59% of those girls had lied or made up an excuse for this absence.
Period poverty is a wide-reaching issue that can affect people in developing or developed nations and is deeply tied into the shame and stigma that continues to surround menstruation, stemming from a reluctance to openly discuss menstruation in society while perpetuating stereotypes about it. The Scottish government’s program, however, is a significant move towards ending period poverty and the surrounding shame, and the replication of this or similar programmes in other countries and educational institutions should be widely encouraged.
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