The groundbreaking decision follows a years-long campaign led by MSP Monica Lennon
Scotland has become the world’s first nation to make period products freely available to anyone that needs them, unanimously passing the Period Products Bill on November 24. The groundbreaking legislation will make the universal provision of period products a legal obligation for local authorities, and comes off the back of a four-year campaign to combat period poverty.
The Labour Party’s Monica Lennon first introduced the Period Products Bill back in 2017. Initially, it was met with opposition from some Scottish politicians, who cited concerns about affordability (the scheme is estimated to cost about £8.7 million a year). Following pressure from campaigners, however, it received cross-party support at Holyrood back in February.
“There has been a massive change in the way that periods are discussed in public life,” Lennon told The Guardian. “A few years ago there had never been an open discussion of menstruation in the Holyrood chamber and now it is mainstream.”
Of the new decision, she added: “This will make a massive difference to the lives of women and girls and everyone who menstruate. There has already been great progress at a community level and through local authorities in giving everyone the chance of period dignity.”
Some Scottish councils such as North Ayrshire – as well as individual businesses such as pubs, restaurants, and football grounds – had started providing free period products ahead of the decision, partly thanks to the advocacy of groups such as On the Ball. Mikaela, a spokesperson for On the Ball, which supported Lennon’s bill, tells Dazed: “It’s an amazing result and fantastic to see such unity in the final vote to make period products freely available in Scotland.”
“The Period Products Bill is a fantastic example of a wide range of people all working together to make change, from politicians to football fans,” she says, adding that she hopes the decision will influence further change. “It’s so inspiring to see Scotland leading the way and we hope this encourages more people to get active and to start making the change they want to see happen.”
In 2018, a study conducted across Scotland, England, and Wales found that 25 per cent of women had to miss school or work because they couldn’t afford sanitary products. A study from Young Scot in the same year showed that one in four participants struggled to access sanitary items when they were needed. Charities supplying menstrual products have also reported a surge in period poverty during the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the tampon tax – also the subject of a years-long campaign – is finally set to be scrapped UK-wide, beginning January 1, 2021. Currently categorised as ‘non-essential, luxury items’, sanitary products are taxed at five per cent.