by Ashley Wright, Arts Editor
Scotland made history on November 24, 2020 by being the first nation in the world to classify sanitary products as an essential hygiene item. The Scottish Parliament unanimously ruled that menstrual products including sanitary pads and tampons would be provided free of charge to Scottish citizens in public restrooms. This legislation is a huge step towards ending “period poverty” and providing these essential products to those who need them but may not be able to afford them. The new law ensures that all public restrooms, including schools, libraries, and government buildings, will have a supply of pads and tampons that are free and easily accessible similarly to products like toilet paper.
The implementation of the bill is expected to cost approximately £8.7 million in the first two years of the program, depending on how many individuals take advantage of the free products. While this may seem like a steep number, legislators have stated that they expected this cost as an offset of the 20% of women in Scotland who live below the poverty line. These numbers reflect a 2017 survey that found nearly 1 in 10 girls in the UK are unable to afford period products, and 50% of girls aged 14 to 21 have missed an entire day of school because of their periods.
This legislation is the result of a three-year campaign led by Parliament member Monica Lennon and has received international support. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon praised the move on Twitter: “Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them. An important policy for women and girls.” Following the vote, Lennon said she hoped this decision would be “a signal to the world that free universal access to period products can be achieved.” While some local governments have previously required menstrual products be offered in select public restrooms, Scotland is the first to pass the law at a national level. Other countries such as England and New Zealand, for example, have launched initiatives to provide free sanitary products exclusively in schools. This legislation opens the door for similar laws to be passed around the world and encourages government bodies to consider women’s health and the destigmatization of menstruation. Period poverty disadvantages people all over the world, but Scotland’s groundbreaking achievements may help millions overcome their circumstances and take steps towards closing the gap between the privileged and the overlooked.