World first: Scotland provides free menstrual products from today

World first: Scotland provides free menstrual products from today
Credit: Wikipedia Commons

From today (Monday 15 August), tampons and sanitary pads will be available free of charge in Scotland, as a new law that requires municipalities and educational institutions to make the products available for free comes into force.

The law was unanimously adopted in 2020 and takes effect today. Among lower-income groups, people who menstruate often have to deal with "period poverty," which means they cannot always afford tampons or sanitary pads and therefore have to do without them.

"Providing access to free period products is fundamental to equality and dignity, and removes the financial barriers to accessing them," said Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison in a press release.

This law makes Scotland the first place in the world where menstrual products are widely available free of charge. Secondary school and university students have already been able to obtain pads and tampons free of charge since 2018, but this will be possible for the entire population from now on.

"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," Robison said.

People can find their nearest collection point through the PickupMyPeriod mobile app, which was launched earlier this year by social enterprise Hey Girls with Scottish Government support. "The Period Product Act shows Scotland is leading the way in recognising that period products are not a luxury and should be freely available to all," said founder Celia Hodson.

The distribution locations of municipalities are now being added to the app, which already lists over 1,000, according to Hodson.

What about Belgium?

According to a 2020 survey by Caritas Vlaanderen, an organisation combatting poverty in Flanders, one in eight women (12%) in Flanders between 12 and 25 years old sometimes do not have enough money to buy the necessary sanitary products.

For girls living in poverty, this figure rises to almost 1 in 2 (45%). Approximately 5% of girls even miss school because they cannot afford pads or tampons.

Following Scotland's example, Belgium's Children's Rights Commissioner Caroline Vrijens also called for sanitary pads and tampons to be made free of charge, as not being able to afford them has a big impact.

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"The effect is mainly psychological," she said. "Women look for other solutions, but these are often not ideal. It causes a lot of stress, fear of leaks, and fear that people would see those leaks."

On top of that, it also creates isolation as girls without pads or tampons often skip school, do not meet up with friends and quit hobbies because they do not want to run the risk of bleeding.

"It is a double taboo: one on poverty and one on menstruation," Vrijens said, adding that it is a basic need to menstruate "in a normal way."

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