Scotland becomes first country to make menstrual products freely available to all

Scotland is making menstrual products freely available. Alicia Draus / Global News

Scottish lawmakers have unanimously passed legislation that will make period products freely available to anyone who needs them — a move that leader Nicole Sturgeon says makes Scotland the first country in the world to do so.

Lawmakers in the Scottish Parliament unanimously approved a bill late Tuesday that will require local authorities to provide free access to items such as tampons and sanitary pads.

Monica Lennon, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, had campaigned against “period poverty” — when someone who needs sanitary products can’t afford them — since 2016. She described the legislation as “practical and progressive,” especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

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“Periods don’t stop for pandemics and the work to improve access to essential tampons, pads and reusables has never been more important,” she said. “On the issue of period dignity, I am beyond proud that Scotland is leading the way and we have moved at a fast pace in a short space of time.”

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Her bill was passed in a 121-0 vote after winning the support of the Scottish government and the other opposition parties in the legislature in Edinburgh.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that she was proud to vote for the “groundbreaking” legislation and described it as “an important policy for women and girls.”

Under the bill, the Scottish government must set up measures to allow anyone who needs period products to get them free of charge. Schools and universities must make the products available for free in their bathrooms.

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The Scottish government already funds free period products in schools and universities, but the bill makes it a legal requirement.

Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell from the Scottish National Party hailed the passing of the legislation as a “significant moment for gender equality.”

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And Rose Caldwell, chief executive of the girls’ rights charity Plan International U.K., said Scotland could soon become the first country to eliminate period poverty once and for all.

A 2017 survey by the charity estimated that 10 per cent of girls aged 14 to 21 in the U.K. have been unable to afford period products, and 15 per cent of girls have struggled to afford them.

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