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Tackling ‘Period Poverty,’ Scotland Is 1st Nation to Make Sanitary Products Free

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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.

Sanitary products for sale at a supermarket in Perthshire, Scotland. Sanitary products for sale at a supermarket in Perthshire, Scotland.Credit…Russell Cheyne/Reuters Megan Specia

  • Published Nov. 24, 2020Updated Nov. 25, 2020, 4:15 a.m. ET

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

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 on the earlier measure, introducing a legal right of free access to tampons and sanitary pads in schools, colleges, universities and all other public buildings. Under the legislation, the government will set up a Scotland-wide initiative, in collaboration with local authorities, to allow anyone who needs period products to get them free of charge.

The legislation also lays out a “reasonable choice of different period products” be made available and will allow people be able to have products delivered to them.

Monica Lennon, the lawmaker who submitted the draft proposal, 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,” Ms. Lennon told lawmakers before the vote on 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 support for the bill throughout its final debate.

Aileen Campbell, the cabinet secretary for communities and local government said the bill’s passage 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. A variety of circumstances make menstruation a difficult experience for women and girls, the bill’s creators say, including poverty, homelessness, abusive relationships and some health conditions. Some transgender people also have trouble accessing sanitary products.

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

Almost a third of girls and women age 14 to 21 had problems either being able to afford or gaining access to sanitary products during the first national lockdown this year, the survey showed. While schools across Britain have provided period products for free since last year, the closing of schools and youth centers closed during the pandemic left many girls without the necessary supplies, the group said.

“It matters now more than ever, because periods don’t stop in a pandemic,” Ms. 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, ahead of the vote.

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