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Scotland becomes first country in world to make period products free

Sophie Smith
16 August 2022

Scotland has become the first country in the world to introduce a law to protect the right to free period products.

The Period Products Act places a legal duty on local authorities to provide free items such as tampons and sanitary pads 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 November 2020.

Monica Lennon, Labour MSP, said: "Local authorities and partner organisations have worked hard to make the legal right to access free period products a reality.

"This is another big milestone for period dignity campaigners and grassroots movements which shows the difference that progressive and bold political choices can make. 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."

Why has the Act been introduced?

Monica Lennon's aim for the Bill is to tackle period poverty, which is the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints. Ms Lennon emphasised that she sees these products as a basic necessity, and believes that providing access to them is important for people's dignity.

In the UK, one in ten girls can’t afford to buy menstrual products, while one in seven have struggled to afford them, according to a survey of 1,000 girls and young women aged 14-21 by Plan International UK.

What will the Act do?

Councils and education providers are now legally required to make period products available free of charge to anyone who needs them.

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 period products "reasonably easily" and offer them a reasonable choice of types of period products.

The Act also states that there must be no judgement as to the need, no limit to the amount of products an individual can take, nor attempts to "ration" products. Individuals don't need a reason to access the products, above and beyond the fact that they menstruate.

What has already been done to address period poverty?

Since 2017, the Scottish Government has invested more than £27 million to fund access in a range of public settings and the new law will help cement this progress.

At present tampons, pads and some reusable products are funded in schools, colleges and universities in Scotland.

In 2018, the Scottish Government confirmed it would provide access to free period products in schools, colleges and universities from August 2018. In January 2019, the Scottish Government then announced a further £4 million of funding to local authorities to expand the provision of free period products in local communities.

Social Justice Secretary, Shona Robison, said: “Providing access to free period products is fundamental to equality and dignity, and removes the financial barriers to accessing them. This is more important than ever at a time when people are making difficult choices due to the cost of living crisis and we never want anyone to be in a position where they cannot access period products.

“The work we are doing in Scotland continues to be world leading, going goes beyond provision of free products. We have also provided funding for an educational website for employers, run a successful anti-stigma campaign, and improved menstrual health resources available for schools."

Free period products were rolled out in all primary and secondary schools in England in early 2020.

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