Scotland’s Trailblazing Action in the Fight Against Period Poverty
Updated: Mar 19
Following a long discussion concerning the topic of period poverty and accessibility to menstruation products, Scotland has become the first country in the world to offer free widespread access to period products.
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland Bill) allocates legal duty to local authorities to provide free period products such as tampons and sanitary pads to "anyone who needs them."
The bill was introduced by Labour Party Parliament member Monica Lennon in April 2019. Lennon highlighted the importance of the bill during the pandemic in a statement saying "Periods don't stop for pandemics and the work to improve access to essential tampons, pads and reusables has never been more important."
For many members of Scotland government, the passing of the bill was an important indicator of progress and a source of pride for the country, with Lennon describing the day the bill was passed as "a proud day for Scotland" and the country’s official Twitter account emphasizing the fact that Scotland is the first country to make period products “free for all."
A major objective of the bill is to mitigate the effects of "Period Poverty," wherein people with lower incomes cannot afford suitable period products. Even though Scotland is the first country to take such aggressive action, period poverty is a global issue.
Research by the Obstetrics and Gynecology Journal in 2019 found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of low-income women from Missouri were unable to afford needed menstrual hygiene supplies during the previous year and that nearly half of these women (46%) were forced to decide between buying food or menstrual products during the past year.
Moreover, a U.K. Opinium Research survey done in 2017 found that 10% of menstruating people aged 14-21 were unable to afford period products and 15% of menstruating people struggled to afford sanitary products.
In the United States, programs supposedly designed to help low-income families like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have classified pads and tampons alongside "luxuries" such as cigarettes and alcohol.
This lack of action by the government to provide suitable period products has potentially catastrophic implications, as wearing tampons or pads for too long or not using them at all may lead to infection and have disastrous public health and hygiene implications.
Given the significant financial strain that menstruation products can pose for those with low incomes, the accessibility to period products may seem like a given, but the stigma surrounding menstruation is entrenched in modern society and silences discourse surrounding periods.
General negative opinion toward menstruation has become a fixture in modern society. A study done in Northern Tanzania found that 13% of girls in secondary schools experienced teasing about their period while more than 80% of girls feared they would be teased.
This is not a novel concept, as globally periods are perceived as “embarrassing” and in many areas menstruating women are restricted to the home. This embarrassment is directly related to the taboo nature of menstruation, and how it is often viewed as “inappropriate” for a woman to discuss with a man her period.
This disgust and embarrassment associated with periods raises an interesting query: are periods actually “disgusting” or are they used as a misogynistic punching bag?
Memorably, President Donald Trump’s remarks in his 2016 campaign accusing debate moderator Megyn Kelly of having “blood coming out of her wherever” was a particularly telling attitude regarding male attributes toward menstruation.
Generally, it seems that modern society has attempted to quiet discussion of periods as “disgusting” unless menstruation is being weaponized as a way to restrict women to the home and portray them as “too emotional” to carry out the same tasks as men.
That is perhaps the most disturbing and likely reasoning surrounding period poverty and the reason why suitable period products aren’t free worldwide: men in positions of power have simply viewed the topics as taboo because it doesn’t apply to them, and therefore a cycle of shame surrounding menstruation has perpetuated among menstruating people.
Activists like Jennifer Weiss-Wolf hopes that the most feasible solution to transforming attitudes surrounding menstruation is passing new legislation, stating in her 2017 book Periods Gone Public: Taking a Stand for Menstrual Equity that “In order to have a fully equitable and participatory society, we must have laws and policies that ensure menstrual products are safe and affordable and available for those who need them.”
Changing policy globally will prove to be a serious challenge. In her book, Weiss-Wolf argued that the easiest to achieve menstrual equity is by portraying periods as a “basic bodily function” that is “right up there with nosebleeds”.
This type of transformation of framework has to begin with more open discussion of menstruation and by advocating for suitable products for all women. This means widening the scope of women who are being advocated for, including women who are incarcerated, providing period products for free in workplaces or schools, and including transgender and non-conforming people who menstruate into the conversation to allow for comprehensive and effective change.
Although it is unlikely that major countries like the United States will soon adopt such bold legislation as the Scotland Bill, many advocates for menstrual equity like Weiss-Wolf have strongly encouraged starting the conversation on a smaller scale, perhaps by creating petitions to allow free period products in both workplaces and schools alike so menstruation can be more widely accepted as normal bodily functions and pads and tampons are viewed no differently than toilet paper.
This type of advocacy is integral to the mission of bipartisan feminism as a whole: to view matters classically viewed as “women’s issues” as a problem for society as a whole. To perceive women as equals in all aspects of their lives, and therefore deserving of humane and suitable care for a function they can’t control.