Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022 10:00 [IST]
Last Update: Wednesday, Aug 17, 2022 04:27 [IST]
In a move that can be termed ground breaking in terms of women empowerment and menstrual parity, Scotland has become the world’s first country to provide free and universal access to sanitary products for women of all age groups. This came after the Scottish parliament unanimously passed a legislation in November 2020. On Monday, 15 August after the Period Products Act comes into force, councils and education providers in Scotland will be legally required to ensure free sanitary products are available to anyone who needs them. The legislation, which was originally proposed by Labour MSP Monica Lennon, was unanimously approved by the Scottish Parliament back in 2020. Ms Lennon has been campaigning to end period poverty since 2016 and has previously described the bill as both "practical" and "progressive". Local authorities and partner organisations have worked hard to make the legal right to access free period products a reality. This important policy for women and girls has been hailed worldwide.
This is another big milestone for period dignity campaigners and grassroots movements which shows the difference that progressive and bold political choices can make. It is indeed heartening that Scotland has pioneered the Period Products Act which is already influencing positive change in Scotland and around the world. As the cost-of-living crisis takes hold, the Period Products Act is a beacon of hope which shows what can be achieved when politicians come together for the good of the people we serve, Ms Lennon has said. Scotland's councils will each decide what exact arrangements are put in place, but they will have a legal obligation to give "anyone who needs them" access to a range of period products "reasonably easily". The measure will make sanitary pads and tampons freely available at nearly all public places including community centres, youth clubs and pharmacies, at an estimated cost of £8.7 million pounds a year by 2022. Schools, colleges and universities will also be mandated to make feminine hygiene products accessible for students.
The goal of the campaign is to eliminate “period poverty” by ensuring that everyone has access to basic sanitary products. Period poverty is the struggle that many menstruators face while trying to afford menstrual products as a result of economic vulnerability, lack of awareness, and poor hygiene standards.
The inadequate access to menstrual products and education around hygiene had been a serious barrier in working towards menstrual equity. This has made menstruation not only a health concern but also an expensive affair for most people. A vast majority of people in rural India are still dependent on unsafe materials like rags, hay, sand, and ash as their alternatives to safer but more expensive menstrual products. This in turn exposes them to UTI and other infections. Conversations around menstruation often tend to overlook the intersectionality of class, caste, and gender. The taboos and lack of information also legitimise shame around menstruation and perpetuates stigma.
A number of other countries have lowered or scrapped taxes on period products - including a dozen states in the US and countries including Kenya, Canada, Australia, Colombia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, Lebanon and Trinidad and Tobago. In February 2021, New Zealand announced all schools will have free access to sanitary products to stamp out period poverty. India only recently exempted the sanitary pads from the GST completely. But they are still inaccessible and unaffordable to most of the women and girls in the country, especially rural areas.