By Amanda Yeo
Scotland has become the first country in the world to provide free menstrual products to whoever needs them. The U.S. already has a lot of catching up to do, and the gap is only widening.
Scottish parliament unanimously passed the landmark legislation on Tuesday, with only one member abstaining. Introduced by Scottish Labour member Monica Lennon, the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill aims to address period poverty — the increasingly common situation in which people who need menstrual hygiene products are unable to afford them. While the draft bill was approved in February, this week’s vote has now made it law.
“Scotland will not be the last country to make period poverty history — but it now has a chance to be the first,” said Lennon ahead of the vote. “This law will ensure no-one has to go without essential period products.”
Under the new law, the Scottish Government will establish a country-wide program to provide free menstrual products to anyone who needs them. It will also be able to compel public bodies to provide free period products, with educational institutions required to do so from the outset.
The legislation is deliberately broad in order to accommodate all menstrual products, so menstrual cups may be provided as well as sanitary pads and tampons. This doesn’t mean they must be provided, but it leaves the possibility open — and also accounts for any products that may be developed in the future.
Period poverty is a significant issue that often goes unnoticed, and can have far-reaching implications. Lack of access to period products can prevent people who menstruate from attending school, work, and social activities, putting them at a significant disadvantage. A UK survey of 1,000 girls found 49 percent had missed an entire day of school because of their period.
Having adequate menstrual products is also a health issue. Attempting to use alternatives such as socks or toilet paper can cause problems such as urinary tract infections. Using tampons or menstrual cups for longer than intended can also cause toxic shock syndrome, a rare, life-threatening illness.
Further, people who menstruate are psychologically and emotionally impacted by not having the resources they need to manage their periods, suffering mental health issues like anxiety, humiliation, and depression.
The problem of period poverty has only been exacerbated by the massive job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with people struggling to buy food much less menstrual hygiene products.
“It is recognised that period poverty can have a detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of women, girls and trans people,” reads the bill’s policy memorandum.
“It is hoped that one of the consequences of the Bill will be to reduce the stigma around menstruation in general. By helping to remove this stigma, and by providing free period products to those who cannot afford to purchase them themselves, women, girls and trans people may feel more empowered and as a result more likely to take an active role within their communities and to make their voices heard.”
Thank you to everyone who has campaigned for period dignity and to my MSP colleagues for backing the Bill tonight.
— Monica Lennon (@MonicaLennon7) November 24, 2020
Scotland schools previously began providing free menstrual products to students under a 2018 government scheme. However, the passage of this new bill enshrines it in law.
“This will make a massive difference to the lives of women and girls and everyone who menstruates,” Lennon told The Guardian. “There has already been great progress at a community level and through local authorities in giving everyone the chance of period dignity.”