Scotland Set to Become the First Country to Provide Free Period Products Nationwide

The Scottish Parliament has given backing to a Government bill which is set to take the country another step in the right direction in combatting period poverty. The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Monica Lennon, a member of the Labour Party. If it is passed into legislation, it will mean that the Scottish Government has a legal duty to make sure that period products can be accessed for free by those who need them. 

Importantly, the document is still only a Government Bill (proposed legislation, which is not passed into law to become an Act until it is passed by Parliament). However, the news that this bill has received initial backing from Scottish Parliament is fantastic news for campaigners who have been seeking to end period poverty worldwide.

If the bill is passed, it will initiate a government period products scheme. It is unclear at present how this scheme will operate, but it must give access to necessary sanitary products "reasonably easily" and in a way that facilitates privacy. A consultation document drafted by Lennon suggested that the scheme could be modelled on systems already in place which distribute free condoms. Under this sort of structure, those who would like free sanitary products could collect them from their GPs or local pharmacies. 

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Scottish Ministers were initially against the bill, raising "significant concerns" over how legislation would be implemented. They were especially worried about the £24 million sum that the scheme is estimated to cost annually. However, after pressure from campaigners, attitudes seem to have changed: in its first vote at Holyrood, the bill was supported by all parties

It is likely the bill will be amended by the Scottish Government as it passes through their parliamentary legislative procedure. Inevitably, these changes will probably include an attempt to cut costs, and to implement a concrete plan as to how the scheme will run once the bill has passed into law. 

A recently published report by the Local Government and Communities Committee acknowledged that while there was unanimous agreement on "the intentions of the Bill", a majority also identified concerns over "limited resources" and the "large disparity between the costs presented in the Financial Memorandum and the costs estimated by the Scottish Government to implement a universal scheme". The report thus urged that these costs would need to be clarified before the legislation could be properly contemplated. 

If these practical issues can be resolved and the bill is passed, as it it predicted to do, Scotland will become the first country to provide free period products universally. This wouldn’t be the first time that Scotland has set an international example on tackling period poverty: in August 2018 it became the first country in the world to offer free sanitary products in its schools, colleges and universities, a decision that was later followed by Wales and then England.

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The issue of period poverty cannot be underestimated. Even in the UK, which is considered above average globally in terms of quality of life, national lack of access to necessary period protection is rife. A 2018 study found that 14% of those between 14 and 21 had at least once used some sort of makeshift sanitary protection due not having the products they needed. These makeshift products included socks and even newspaper. 

This study focused on schools, not society as a whole. The effect of Lennon’s Bill, if passed, would be be far more wide-ranging - it would cover period poverty within the homeless population, an issue which is largely unspoken of despite its widespread nature, and its implication is hoped to create a much-needed conversation about the impact of period poverty globally.

When her bill was launched, Monica Lennon said: "Scotland has a chance to be a world leader by passing my member’s bill ... grass roots campaigners have already delivered significant change on period poverty. It’s now time for Scotland to put access on a legal footing, to lead the rest of the UK and the world."

The acceptance of this bill will be fantastic news for campaigners worldwide. Hopefully, Scotland can set an example which will be followed by other countries, and globally, we will be closer to eradicating period poverty for good.