Scotland makes history as the first country to allow access to free menstrual products


Zach Gilbert

As Scotland makes menstrual products free for all its citizens, other countries still have a long way to go to achieve similar success in preventing period poverty. Photo courtesy of International Business Times.

On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Scotland became the first country in the world to require free and universal access to period products such as tampons and pads, in a sweeping success for the women’s rights movement.

The Period Products Bill received unanimous support from the Scottish Parliament, creating a law that mandates the availability of menstrual products in public facilities across the country. Those who run these facilities will work with local authorities to assure that these products are always accessible and readily stocked.

“The campaign has been backed by a wide coalition, including trades unions, women’s organizations and charities,” Monica Lennon, the lawmaker who introduced the bill in 2019, said. “Scotland will not be the last country to make period poverty history. Legislation is a world-leading opportunity to secure period dignity for all women, girls and people who menstruate.”

The Scottish government estimates that the legislation will cost around £24 million annually (around $32 million). Nevertheless, Lennon maintains that this is a small price to pay to protect those in Scotland who live in poverty and therefore struggle to purchase tampons and pads.

Numerous prominent politicians, including Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, were quick to offer their support for the bill after the vote.

“Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free products who need them. An important policy for women and girls,” Sturgeon said via her official Twitter account on Tuesday.

According to a 2017 survey from Plan International UK, one in 10 girls in the United Kingdom have been unable to afford period products at one point in their life. Though the government started allowing access to free period products at schools, colleges and universities in 2018 and at libraries and recreational centers in 2019, Lennon’s bill is still the most comprehensive protection of period product availability to date.

Last year, England set out to provide free menstrual products to high school students, while New Zealand launched a similar initiative in schools in June 2020. Neither country has passed as decisive a bill as Lennon’s yet. Regardless, both countries have still done more to address the matter than the United States, which currently has no laws in place to provide free period products in any capacity.

Some states – including Michigan – have made strides in attempting to end sales taxes on menstrual products, while others – such as California, Illinois and New York – have put policies in place to offer free period products in school bathrooms. Nonetheless, many still believe that the U.S. has not done enough to provide for people who menstruate on a federal level.

In March 2019, U.S. Representative Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced the Menstrual Equity for All Act, which would ensure access to menstrual products for incarcerated and homeless women and also allow all schools to use federal funds for these products. Unfortunately, it has yet to receive the support it needs to be passed.

Meanwhile, activist groups like Alliance for Period Supplies continue to work to raise awareness on the topic of period poverty and aid those in need, while organizations like Tax Free. Period. fight to end the “tampon tax” nationwide.