Everyone’s menstrual cycle is different, but having a period is a financial burden regardless of whether you have a light or a heavy flow.
Unfortunately, many people who either can’t afford menstrual hygiene products or choose to save money to pay for other basic needs miss out on enriching life experiences like completing their education. Unsafe materials like toilet paper and rags too often become alternatives for people experiencing period poverty.
When people who menstruate don’t have to worry about where their next tampon or pad will come from, they can concentrate more on school, work, and their well-being.
Providing free period products to anyone who needs them makes it easier for them to fully participate in society. But that doesn’t mean that handing out free pads and tampons is a perfect solution to the problem. When governments distribute free period products, they are usually disposable pads and tampons.
Very rarely do they give out environmentally friendly alternatives like period underwear, menstrual discs, menstrual cups, and reusable pads. Menstrual equity activists also warn that free period products alone won’t end period poverty. Education, adequate water and sanitation facilities, and addressing harmful gender norms are necessary, too.
But making period products more accessible is one step toward addressing period poverty. Here’s a list of 20 places around the globe that provide free menstrual products.
In November 2020, Scotland became the first country to provide tampons and sanitary pads to anyone who needs them. Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon led the effort through the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.
People who menstruate can access period products at community centers, youth clubs, and pharmacies. The measure came after the country became the first to start providing period products in schools in 2017.
2. New Zealand
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced in February 2021 that all schools in the country would start providing free tampons and pads in June. The move was an attempt to increase school attendance and address poverty head-on, she said.
Schools in New Zealand’s Waikato region first piloted the opt-in Access to Period Products program before the mandate went into effect nationally.
3. New South Wales and 4. Victoria (Australia)
In 2018, the Australian government announced a plan to provide free pads and tampons in all public schools. Victoria became the first Australian state to implement the scheme in 2020. The education ministry said the law would make schools more inclusive and help break down period stigma. New South Wales followed suit and launched a trial in the state in March 2021 to test the most effective way to roll out free period products in schools.
5. Illinois; 6. Washington; 7. New York; 8. New Hampshire; 9. Virginia (United States)
New York City first passed legislation to provide public schools with free tampons and pads in 2016, but the rest of the state didn’t follow suit until 2018. Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal championed the bill.
Several other states jumped on the bandwagon in 2021. The Virginia Senate unanimously passed Bill 232 in January 2020, requiring schools that teach middle school to high school students to provide period products free of charge in bathrooms. While menstrual products were always available in school nurse’s offices, the new law aims to make them even easier to access.
Then Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill in May 2021, requiring that public schools, colleges, and universities make free menstrual products available to all genders starting in the 2022-23 school year.
Most recently, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bills 155, 310, and 641 into law in August 2021 to ensure that free period products be provided in college bathrooms and at shelters for people experiencing homeless.
10. Île-de-France, France
France’s Île-de-France region started distributing free organic period products in high schools in September 2020. Not long after, in February 2021, French universities were instructed to install free tampon and pad dispensers following a recommitment to the initiative by French President Emmanuel Macron in December 2020. Student organizations helped implement the government policy.
After becoming the first country worldwide to eliminate the “tampon tax,” the Kenyan government started distributing free sanitary pads to girls in public schools in April 2018. The decision to support the effort came after two years of parliamentary debate on the issue.
12. South Africa
Global Citizens started calling on the South African government to address period poverty in August 2018 and took more than 136,000 actions as part of the campaign. By October 2018, Finance Minister Mboweni eliminated the tampon tax and committed to providing free period products in schools. Several provinces already provided free pads to students but additional governmental funding helped more provinces get on board.
All school-aged girls in Botswana became eligible to receive free sanitary pads in August 2017. The country’s parliament took action following the “Ensuring the Dignity of Women” campaign, founded in 2015.
14. Seoul, South Korea
South Korea’s capital city launched a pilot program in October 2018 to test handing out free period products in 10 public spaces. Although women in South Korea have qualified for menstrual leave at work since 2001, the city’s government didn’t introduce the program until the documentary Insole Girls highlighted period poverty and sparked backlash.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni pledged to provide free sanitary napkins in schools across the country in 2016 but sparked an outcry for not following through. To fill the gap, the Ugandan government partnered with the Ugandan Red Cross’ “Keep a Girl In School Initiative” and reusable sanitary pad company AFRIpads to distribute free period products in schools.
Zambia’s government announced in 2017 that it would distribute free sanitary pads to girls in rural and underserved communities. The plan was implemented in 2019. Educators in rural Lusaka province reported that school attendance has improved since the measure went into effect.
17. British Columbia; 18. Ontario; 19. Nova Scotia; 20. Prince Edward Island (Canada)
British Columbia’s board of education started requiring schools to provide menstrual products to all students in 2019, making it the first province to instate such a rule. Nova Scotia announced a similar law for public schools shortly after.
Some public school boards in Ontario, including Toronto and Waterloo, have introduced free period products, but youth organizations are calling for a province-wide policy.
The Prince Edward Island government’s free period product policy kicked off in 2020. The policy extends beyond schools and includes food banks and shelters.
The Canadian government also initiated an effort to make period products free in federal workplaces, but it remains under consideration.
You can join the Global Citizen Live campaign to defend the planet and defeat poverty by taking action here, and become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make change.