Scotland’s mission to end period poverty
Period poverty is when girls and women don’t have access to sanitary products – a sad state of affairs in modern day Scotland. It leads to missing school, feelings of shame, and even using makeshift feminine hygiene like rags which can cause toxic shock.
Menstrual cycles can be a taboo subject at the best of times and the embarrassment can be hard to shake off for teenagers buckling under peer pressure – but bodily functions shouldn’t get in the way of education.
Girls usually experience a period once a month, and it can come accompanied by debilitating side effects including migraines and cramps. All females experience period pains differently, and not all periods are the same, but what all women have in common is that their periods are stigmatised. Periods are considered unhygienic and often concerns around menstrual health are dismissed and delegitimised, which makes girls unwilling to speak up when they are suffering.
Another factor that leads to period poverty is that feminine hygiene products are not cheap – it’s a monthly and often hidden cost. There was a furore when people found out that tampons were classed as a luxury item and were subject to VAT tax, unlike men’s razors which are seen as an essential item.
Of course, financial restraints aren’t the only reason behind period poverty. It’s also centred around the shame that girls and women feel about their periods that is culturally learned and even encouraged – this has to end, too. Period poverty is a gender issue and a poverty issue, and one that must be tackled.
“Research from the Scottish Government and YoungScot has already revealed that one in four young people at school, college and university have struggled to access sanitary products,” says Monica Lennon, a Labour MSP for central Scotland, who has been tirelessly campaigning against period poverty for years.
“Anecdotal evidence has previously shown that girls are missing days at school, or are having to use totally inappropriate products to manage their periods by stuffing their underwear with socks or even newspaper,” she says.
It’s completely unacceptable that young girls should have to resort to using socks to soak up their period blood in Scotland in 2018. The issue has been brought to the attention of the public – partly thanks to Monica’s campaigning – and the government and schools are acting accordingly.
Luckily, the government has listened to concerns and is on track to outlawing period poverty. From autumn this year, Scotland will be the first country in the world to supply sanitary products for free in educational institutions.
“It’s unacceptable that anyone should miss out on their education just because they’re menstruating, and have to face the stress and indignity of not being able to access products when they need them,” says Monica, who is delighted that the Scottish Government has committed to free sanitary products access in schools, colleges and universities.
There’s been a domino effect throughout Scotland as organisations take period poverty seriously: even Celtic FC has committed to providing free sanitary products in Celtic Park stadium from next season.
But it doesn’t stop there. Monica is bringing forward a bill to parliament that will make providing sanitary products a legal duty for educational institutions, alongside establishing a universal right of access to free sanitary products for anyone in Scotland who needs them.
A pilot scheme is being rolled out in Aberdeen, supplying free sanitary products to women in low-income households and will report back to Holyrood by the end of the year. “I look forward to the day where period poverty in Scottish schools, and rights across Scottish society, becomes a thing of the past,” Monica says.
Hear, hear. Let’s hope that Scotland eradicates period poverty forever.
HOW TO HELP
“My own research has been richly informed by the experiences of teachers and I’m delighted that Nicola Fisher, the Educational Institute of Scotland president has been a forefront of the campaign,” points out Monica. As a teacher, your first-hand experience is needed by the government.
By the end of the year, your school will supply free sanitary products to all pupils who need them, but unfortunately more work needs to be done.
There is a lot of ignorance around female sexual health, and the taboo that surrounds periods. Encourage your school to discuss period poverty in departmental meetings and filter that through to the classroom to end the shame of menstrual cycles.