On November 24th, 2020, the Scottish Parliament announced its unanimous decision to make menstrual products, such as pads and tampons, free to those who need them. A truly historical event, this has made Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all.
The bill, titled The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, places a legal duty on the Scottish government to set up a universal system to ensure anyone in need of period products can get them without paying, with local Scottish authorities and education providers tasked to make sure that the products are obtainable free of charge. Schools, colleges, and universities will be required to have free menstrual products available for all students and several designated public places such as community centers, youth clubs, and pharmacies must also make the products free and available.
Monica Lennon, the fierce advocate and Member of the Scottish Parliament, who introduced the landmark legislation in April 2019, stated before the vote:
In the midst of a global pandemic, this groundbreaking bill sends a powerful message for how governments should understand and accommodate the menstrual health needs of its citizens. Periods don’t stop for pandemics, and free, universal access to period products has never been more needed. Menstrual products should not be a luxury in any circumstances as menstrual care is health care, and there should be absolutely no barriers to their access or use.
The motivation behind the legislation acknowledges that accessing menstrual products can be a challenge for some marginalized or vulnerable groups, and it spotlights that inadequate access to menstrual products and education is not confined to developing countries; it is alive and well and also experienced in countries with developed economies. The debate around the bill also led to the discussion of issues rarely spoken of, such as endometriosis, heavy menstrual bleeding (HMB) and the necessity of waste bins in restrooms.
In the days after the victorious announcement, several activist groups and politicians in surrounding countries (Belgium, The Netherlands, United Kingdom, United States) proposed similar calls to action on their governments to follow Scotland’s example and take decisive measures in providing free period products for all.
Policies like these that focus on providing basic needs like menstrual products — anchored in evidence, voice, and participation — are incredible entry points to addressing wider topics of women’s rights and gender discrimination. While the period revolution should not stop with giving away free products, Scotland’s vote presents an opportunity to examine fundamental values about what roles 1. informed choice; 2., inclusivity and; 3., language play in moving forward good gender-equitable policy.
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