In Novem­ber last year, the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment voted unan­im­ously to pass the Period Products (Free Pro­vi­sion) (Scot­land) Act. This act (as the name may imply) provides free period products to every­one across Scot­land who needs them. The law puts a legal respons­ib­il­ity on local author­it­ies to provide free period products to the people in their area. In some places like North Ayrshire, local coun­cils were already doing this, but it will now be a legal oblig­a­tion. Scot­land is the first coun­try in the world to have taken these steps so decisively.

Cam­paign­ers for free period products

This act was passed after a four-year cam­paign spear­headed by Mon­ica Len­non, the health spokes­per­son for Scot­tish Labour. Many grass­roots organ­isa­tions across Scot­land con­trib­uted, such as Women for Inde­pend­ence, trade uni­ons, and civil soci­ety groups. It also finally fixes into law a prom­ise made by First Min­is­ter Nic­ola Stur­geon in 2017, that all schools, col­leges, and uni­ver­sit­ies must provide free period products.

Len­non gave a speech after the act was passed, high­light­ing how import­ant this step was: “Men­stru­ation is nor­mal. Free uni­ver­sal access to tam­pons, pads and reusable options should be nor­mal too.” She also emphas­ised, “Period dig­nity for all isn’t rad­ical or extreme; it’s simply the right thing to do.”

Period poverty in Scotland

This act came at a crit­ical time, shortly after the effects of COVID-19 saw cases of period poverty skyrocket around the world. “Peri­ods don’t stop for pan­dem­ics,” as Len­non put it. Sur­veys in the UK have found that on aver­age, someone who men­stru­ates spends £13 a month on period products. This is a sig­ni­fic­ant expense, espe­cially when access to both money and afford­able products is restric­ted. Even in pre-pan­demic times, the situ­ation was dire: the organ­isa­tion Women for Inde­pend­ence found one in five have exper­i­enced period poverty. Another research pro­ject even sug­ges­ted that over half those sur­veyed had missed school because of their period. 

Fur­ther­more, a study of more than 2,000 people by Young Scot in 2018 showed young people are espe­cially affected. Accord­ing to the responses of the sur­vey, 24% of those in edu­ca­tion had struggled with access­ing period products. This shows how import­ant Sturgeon’s pledge in 2017 had been. But fur­ther to that, 26% of responses from young people not in edu­ca­tion repor­ted dif­fi­culties, mostly with avail­ab­il­ity and afford­ab­il­ity. The major­ity then had to bor­row from a friend or use sub­sti­tutes like toi­let paper, which neg­at­ively impacts self-esteem. Poor afford­ab­il­ity of period products, dif­fi­culty with access and rampant social taboos are all issues high­lighted as ser­i­ous prob­lems here. This act could tackle this by help­ing low-income house­holds still go about their daily lives des­pite these troubles.

How does the scheme work?

The scheme is the duty of local coun­cils to act on and the gov­ern­ment can enforce it if needed. So, the free period products should be avail­able in arranged pub­lic areas, like phar­ma­cies, com­munity centres, or pub­lic build­ings. Some areas like Aber­deen even have a gov­ern­ment-fun­ded pro­ject to deliver the free period products to low-income house­holds. While the scheme was not means tested before rol­lout and may cost over £8 mil­lion per year, it is evid­ently a wel­come one. Stur­geon tweeted she was “proud to vote for this ground-break­ing legis­la­tion,” and the response has been over­whelm­ingly pos­it­ive since November.

The future of free period products

While the future is always unclear, this scheme has been an encour­aging step in the right dir­ec­tion. Scot­land may be the first, but other coun­tries are tak­ing meas­ures to help with period poverty too. Eng­land pledged to sup­ply free period products in edu­ca­tional facil­it­ies, and many European coun­tries are scrap­ping taxes that make period products so expens­ive. “Scot­land will not be the last coun­try to con­sign period poverty to his­tory,” Len­non said of the new law’s poten­tial impact. “But we have the chance to be the first.”

Ailsa Fraser, writer, Texterin, Vulvani
Stu­dent & Writer | + posts

Ailsa lives in Eng­land and stud­ies in Scot­land. She spends her time writ­ing, day­dream­ing about fantasy worlds and won­der­ing about the future of our own. As a stu­dent of his­tory and polit­ics, she is espe­cially inter­ested in think­ing about how the exper­i­ences of women, LGBTQ people and other minor­it­ies fit into all three – espe­cially when the topic of men­stru­ation is involved.