Earlier this week, Scotland’s parliament approved plans to make sanitary products free for all women making it one step closer to becoming the first nation in the world to do so.
The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill passed the first of three stages by a vote of 112-0. There was one abstention. It will now move to the second stage, where amendments can be proposed.
If enacted, the legislation will make sanitary pads and tampons available for free in select public places such as pharmacies and community centers, effectively ending “period poverty.”
According to Plan International UK:
42% of UK girls have had to use makeshift period products because they struggle to afford menstrual products
1 in 10 girls in the UK are unable to afford period products
27% of UK girls have used a period product for longer than its intended use because they couldn’t afford a fresh one
The annual cost is projected to be $31.2 million (24.1 million pounds).
Monica Lennon, a Scottish Parliament member, initially proposed the bill in 2017. And in 2018, Scotland became the first country to make free sanitary products available across the country in schools, including colleges and universities.
In 2019, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free period products to students at all levels of education 💙 But that was just the start.. Today, a bill has passed in the Scottish Parliament to make period products free to everyone 💪 #ScotlandIsNow pic.twitter.com/Xxptd3HpuX— Scotland Is Now 🏴 (@Scotland) February 25, 2020
The program was initiated following a survey of Scottish students that found 1 in 4 had struggled to access sanitary products.
During debate over the bill, Lennon also said that its passing would be an important “milestone moment for normalizing menstruation in Scotland and sending out that real signal to people in this country about how seriously parliament takes gender equality.”
Lawmaker Alison Johnstone said:
“Why is it in 2020 that toilet paper is seen as a necessity but period products aren’t? Being financially penalized for a natural bodily function is not equitable or just.”
Johnstone also said:
“This is so often characterized as a women’s issue, but it is not. It is a social justice issue, an equalities issue, and a rights issue,” she said. “It is estimated that a woman will, over her lifetime, spend approximately £5,000 on period products. Being financially penalized for a natural bodily function is not equitable or just. Being unable to afford or access period products denies women access to education, work, sport and so much more.“
Neil Findlay said that the legislation broke down “the barrier of our inability to discuss such serious issues about our health and well-being in the media or in public without embarrassment, reticence and discomfort.”
“It has allowed people to talk about the issues without embarrassment or stigma, which is a very good thing,” he said. “It was absolutely fantastic to see male industrial workers from Unite the union— members of my own union; I see some of them in the gallery—out there campaigning on period poverty. Long may that continue.”
After the vote Lennon told the Daily Record:
“This is an amazing victory for everyone who has campaigned for free universal access to period products and who has convinced the Scottish Government to back this ground-breaking Bill.
Scotland has already taken important steps towards improving access to period products and tackling stigma but legislation will guarantee rights, ensure that current initiatives continue in future on a universal basis, and will help us achieve period dignity for all.”
In the UK the same products are subjected to a 5% tax. The government announced in 2016 that it would drop the controversial “tampon tax” but has yet to do so.
In January, England launched a program in which tampons and sanitary pads are made available for free at state schools and colleges. And over the last few years, the “pink tax” has been addressed by numerous states in the U.S. with New Hampshire requiring public middle and high schools to provide free products to students as of last year.
“Access to menstrual products is a right. Period.”