Big Issue Vendor

Monica Lennon: We must put right to free period products into law

This week we launched a special period poverty issue with social enterprise Hey Girls. Now the Scottish Government has said it will back Labour MSP Monica Lennon's bill making free period products available universally. Here she explains why this is a victory that really matters

I have been campaigning to improve access to period products in Scotland since I was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2016. A lot has changed in the last few years. Thanks to lots of grassroots and political campaigning, the long-standing stigma around menstruation in Scotland has been reducing. Talking about periods and their impact has become a more and more acceptable topic of conversation in Scottish public life.

Around half the population will experience periods at some point in life – but, even now, far too many people face struggles to access the basic products that they need. Menstruation affects people differently – but women, girls and trans people who experience periods all have a common need of access to period products.

For those who are struggling to make ends meet, are homeless or have certain health conditions, managing your period can be messy and difficult. That’s why I’ve been using my voice to raise the injustice of period poverty and the need for period dignity for all.

One in eight young people have accessed free period products because they couldn’t afford them, according to a recent Young Scot survey. Thankfully work rolled out by the Scottish Government has started to address this by making tampons, pads and reusables as common as toilet paper in schools, colleges and universities and providing them in some community settings.

I applaud the work the Scottish Government has undertaken. Likewise, Scottish Parliament buildings are stocked with free tampons and pads. So if MSPs can conveniently access pads and tampons, shouldn’t everyone else be able to do so? That’s why I’m asking colleagues to back the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill to create free universal access to period products for all who need them.

The Bill has the support of hundreds of individuals and organisations across civic Scotland, including The Poverty Alliance, Scottish Youth Parliament, EIS, Girlguiding Scotland, Scottish Women’s Convention, the STUC and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health Scotland. The growing list of organisations and supporters spans the political divide.

My member’s bill will introduce a legal right to access period products. No one will be forced to take them, but Ministers will be duty-bound to make them universally available. Free period product initiatives in schools, colleges and universities will have legal protection, like other parts of the world. Similar work is happening in England, Wales and further afield.

SNP Ministers are thought to be weighing up universalism against a targeted approach. If they read the public consultation on the Bill, they’ll find 96 per cent of respondents supported the principle universalism. Periods are hard enough without putting up further barriers to those who are struggling.

Legislation is necessary to guarantee period dignity for all. Passing this pioneering Bill will be a hugely positive step – and I hope MSPs will listen and vote in favour of it.

Scottish Parliament will vote on Lennon’s bill on February 25. The MSP will lead a day of action and a rally for those who want to end period poverty for good.