Scotland becomes first country to make period products free
Scotland continues to make history in terms of free products for women’s periods and, as of Monday, is the first territory in the world where the right to access them free of charge is enshrined in law. The commitment reinforces the provisions that already existed in areas such as schools or universities, and extends them to all public spaces, through the entry into force of the so-called Law of the Products of the Rule, endorsed unanimously in the Scottish Parliament in November 2020.
The legislation is groundbreaking and, despite full support for its passage, had initially been met with some reluctance by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government, concerned about the difficulties of putting the proposals into practice. But thanks to the campaign of the promoter of the regulation, the Labor MP Monica Lennon, in collaboration with the groups that advocate for the end of the so-called menstrual poverty (referring to the lack of resources to buy basic sanitary products), Scotland feels a precedent that increases the pressure on other administrations to adopt similar strategies.
Monica Lennon, the lawmaker who drafted the 2020 Period Products Act proposal, tweeted that Scotland could be ‘the first, but won’t be the last’ country to offer free period products.
“We are witnessing a massive cultural shift, where the stigma of menstruation is no longer tolerated,” Lennon said in an email to The New York Times. “There is more emphasis on menstrual wellness and a renewed focus on addressing medical misogyny.”
Northern Ireland is considering a similar move, and New Zealand and Seoul are offering free menstrual products in schools. “It gives me hope that we won’t be the last country to put access to free menstrual products on the statute books,” said Ms. Lennon.
The culmination of these disseminated actions in a law that unifies the obligation would not have been possible without the involvement of municipal authorities and organizations related to the matter, according to Monica Lennon herself, who has claimed today’s historical precedent as ‘another great milestone that demonstrates the difference that progressive and courageous political decisions can make.” The entry into force of the regulations also coincides with the cost of living crisis in the United Kingdom, a country where, as winter approaches, a particularly complicated time is expected, in which citizens will be forced to major resignations to cope with inflationary pressure.
For the organizations that have been demanding this measure for years, period products should be as accessible and ubiquitous as toilet paper in public restrooms. According to a study carried out before the pandemic by Hey Girls, a social enterprise that fights period poverty, one in four women in Scotland had at some point had difficulty buying pads, tampons and other period products. In their reports, they collect the proliferation of cases such as those of mothers who have to choose between these products or feed their children, which means that they have to resort to alternative homemade formulas, such as stuffing socks with newspapers or bread.
The Scottish Government itself has admitted this Monday that facilitating free access is ‘essential for equality and dignity’, above all, in the face of the ‘difficult decisions’ that escalating prices will increasingly impose. As a consequence, measures that already existed, such as free provision in schools and universities, now have legal protection, and the great challenge is, therefore, to guarantee that it reaches those who need it, the initial concern of the Executive, which, during the parliamentary processing of the law, introduced a series of changes that would be key for the final unanimous approval.
In any case, the Government had already provided an item of more than five million pounds (nearly six million euros) to help educational institutions finance the products, as well as to support distribution among lower-income households, a task assumed by organizations such as FareShare. Likewise, it had provided four million more for local authorities, so that they could expand the dispensing in other public spaces and an additional half million for sports clubs.
In an interview with the New York Times, Lennon said: “We are witnessing a massive cultural shift, where period stigma is no longer tolerated. There is more emphasis on menstrual wellness and a renewed focus on tackling medical misogyny.”
While there are no such developments in Australia, Northern Ireland is currently considering a similar move. New Zealand and Seoul are also reported to offer free menstrual products in schools. As Shona Robison, Scotland’s social justice secretary, said in a statement: ‘Providing access to free menstrual products is fundamental to equality and dignity, and removes financial barriers to accessing them.’
She added: ‘We never want anyone to be in a position where they can’t access period products.’
Under the new regulation, all councils in Scotland must consult with local communities to determine the best access point for menstrual products. Whether in libraries, swimming pools, public gyms, community buildings, town halls, pharmacies or doctors’ offices, the products for the season will be available and free. It comes after previous legislation ensured that tampons and sanitary pads were provided free of charge in schools, colleges and universities.
As Lennon put it, the challenges to menstruation were also taken into account when drafting the bill, particularly for those experiencing poverty, homelessness, abusive relationships and health conditions. Thanks to an app called PickupMyPeriod, those in Scotland can find the closest location with free period products, and users can filter by location. Home delivery will also be available.
It is certainly a welcome development and one can only hope that such legislation will come to Australia as well. Period poverty is something that greatly affects Australians as well, and relates not only to access to period products, but also lack of access to menstrual health education and access to toilets or washing facilities. Research into period poverty in Australia published in 2021 by Share the Dignity found that more than one in five menstruating people are ‘winging it’ by using items like toilet paper and socks because of the cost of sanitary pads or tampons, according to SBS.
The survey of more than 125,000 people found that almost half had also missed at least one day of school because of their period, indicating that period poverty in Australia is a bigger problem than most realize.
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