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Scotland to End 'Period Poverty' with free sanitary products

The Scottish Parliament voted unanimously to pass a measure that makes free period products available to anyone who needs them, the first country to do so

By Megan Specia
Published: Nov 25, 2020

Scotland to End 'Period Poverty' with free sanitary productsNicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, posted on Twitter shortly after the vote Tuesday evening thatshe was “proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation” which she called an “important policy for women and girls.” 

Image: Getty Images

LONDON — Scotland has become the first country in the world to make period products freely available to all who need them, after final approval was given to a landmark piece of legislation in Parliament on Tuesday.

The measures are intended to end “period poverty” — or the circumstances, and in some cases, prohibitive expense that have left many without access to sanitary products when they need them.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, posted on Twitter shortly after the vote Tuesday evening that she was “proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation” which she called an “important policy for women and girls.”

A draft bill received initial approval in Parliament earlier this year, but Tuesday’s vote saw the measure officially pass, with lawmakers voting unanimously in its favor.

Two years ago, Scotland also made history when it began providing free sanitary products to students at schools, colleges and universities, through a government program. Wales and England followed last year with similar programs that provide free sanitary products in schools.

The new law in Scotland builds upon the earlier measure, introducing a legal right of free access to tampons and sanitary pads in schools, colleges, universities and all other public buildings.

Monica Lennon, the lawmaker who submitted the draft proposal of the bill, thanked the groups who were instrumental in its passage, including the Girl Guides of Scotland, and said a collaborative effort across the government had led to its success.

“We have shown that this Parliament can be a progressive force for change when we collaborate,” Lennon said, speaking in front of Parliament before the vote Tuesday. “Our prize is the opportunity to consign period poverty to history. In these dark times, we can bring light and hope to the world this evening.”

Lawmakers across the political spectrum voiced their support for the bill throughout its final debate, and praised Lennon and others for making it a reality.

Aileen Campbell, the Cabinet secretary for communities and local government, speaking before the vote, said the passage of this bill would send “a very clear message to the kind of Scotland we want to be.”

She said it was “clear that everyone in this chamber agrees that no one in our society should have to suffer the indignity of not having the means to meet their basic needs and that being able to access period products is fundamental to equality and dignity.”

It’s not just the cost of products that have been an issue. There are a variety of circumstances that make menstruation a difficult experience for women and girls, the creators of the bill say, including poverty, homelessness, abusive relationships and some health conditions. Some transgender people may also experience difficulties in accessing sanitary products.

And the issue has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic, a study published by Plan International UK, a global children’s charity, showed earlier this year.

Almost a third of girls and women between ages of 14 and 21 encountered problems either affording or accessing sanitary products during the first national lockdown this year, the survey showed. While schools across the United Kingdom have provided period products for free since last year, with schools and youth centers closed during the pandemic, more girls were left without the necessary supplies, the group said.

“It matters now more than ever because periods don’t stop in a pandemic,” Lennon said in Parliament.

She and other lawmakers also made it clear that there was still work to be done in tackling the stigma and embarrassment around periods.

“Once access to period products is secured for all, our next steps must be ensuring women’s health in general remains high on the political agenda in Scotland and that we end all stigma around menstruation,” she told a local news outlet, The Scotsman, before the vote.

©2019 New York Times News Service