Women and girls across Scotland could be set to receive free sanitary products, in a bid to eradicate period poverty and create a “fairer and more equal society."
Labour MSP Monica Lennon wants to introduce a scheme that, if successful, will see sanitary products provided for free in schools, colleges, and universities across Scotland.
It comes after a series of reports found that women and girls were using toilet paper and even socks as a replacement for tampons and sanitary pads, because they couldn’t afford proper sanitary care.
Others were found to be missing school entirely while on their periods.
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“We’re hearing about women and girls using sanitary products for too long, longer than what is safe to do so, people improvising and using other items,” Lennon told BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme this week.
“We are hearing about young people who worry about having their period in class and they know that there are no products available in school toilets. There are a lot of stories there that people find hard to speak about, but as this campaign has evolved I feel like we are starting to see the stigma lift a bit and people are speaking out.”
In July, a six-month pilot project was announced in Aberdeen, to help women and girls from low-income households receive sanitary products.
The trial, which received £42,500 in funding, was due to hand out free sanitary products to 1,000 women and girls across Scotland.
Lennon is launching a consultation on a members’ bill, and urging ministers to help make access to sanitary products a “basic right.”
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If Scotland does go ahead with the law, it will put pressure on the rest of the UK to do the same.
“Scotland has the opportunity to be a world leader in ending period poverty,” said Lennon.
“Access to sanitary products should be a basic right but sadly in Scotland we know not everyone can afford or obtain what they need. That’s why I intend to introduce a legal duty on the Scottish government to develop a universal system in Scotland which will provide free sanitary products for anyone who needs them.”
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Lennon added: “Having your period shouldn’t result in anyone missing class. This is a big step towards creating a fairer and more equal society and I hope to hear from people right across Scotland during the consultation.”
Last year, public schools in New York introducedfree tampons and pads in all secondary school buildings following a successful pilot scheme.
Several countries across Africa are also using free sanitary products as a way to keep girls in school.
Earlier this month, Botswana’s parliament adopted a motion to provide sanitary pads for all school-aged women in the country; Kenya has also launched a similar programme; Zambia did the same in 2016; and the president of Uganda has promised free sanitary products, but has yet to bring it into practice.
One in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss multiple days of school during their period, according to the UN. Once they fall behind their male peers, it is hard to catch up and that can lead to higher rates of girls dropping out of school early.