A world-first bill which would give everyone a legal right to free period products has passed the first hurdle in Parliament.
Labour MSP Monica Lennon tabled the motion for the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, which – until last week – was opposed by SNP ministers in favour of existing measures already in place, expressing concern about the cost and deliverability of Lennon’s bill.
However last week the government shocked activists, taking a u-turn to support the bill in principle at stage one, with intent to propose significant amendments at later stages.
Lennon’s bill was designed to enshrine a universal right to free period products in law, in an attempt to bring period poverty to an end and fight stigma around menstruation.
"For too long women and girls have been locked out the corridors of power…women's issues are always put to the back of queue. Periods are normal and access to period products should be normal too." @MonicaLennon7 pic.twitter.com/kr1t9VeaVr
— YWCA Scotland (@youngwomenscot) February 25, 2020
Leading the debate in Holyrood, the MSP said: “Women and girls are too often left behind in the political process. This is a chance to put them first and do something truly groundbreaking.
“Period dignity for all isn’t radical or extreme, it’s simply the right thing to do.
“Already the bill has been shaped and influenced by women, girls, trans and non-binary people from every corner of Scotland.
“We must get on and do this. We have constituents today who are worried about where their next pad or tampon is coming from.”
Last week the MSP wrote in The Big Issue about why the creation of such a law would be a victory for equality campaigners across Scotland.
Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, expressed her concern about the true cost of Lennon’s model in action.
Momentous day @ScotParl. Started with a rally of cross party MSPs and numerous organisations to #endperiodpoverty. Now for the debate. Proud to support the hard work of @MonicaLennon7 to get us here. @FSRH_Scot @FSRH_UK pic.twitter.com/r4JLhDxgQA
— Alison Scott (@AlisonScott2306) February 25, 2020
She said it would be “almost impossible to design a distribution model that isn’t overly bureaucratic or costly” – adding that the bill could cost up to £24 million once put into practice rather than the £9m suggested.
However Campbell added that Scotland is “clearly seeing a change in culture”, and that she hoped ministers could pull out all the stops to “come up with a bill that all of Parliament can be proud of and secure that legacy for generations to come”.
The SNP’s Sandra White spoke about a voucher scheme described in the bill as a potential delivery scheme. She pointed out that a requirement to show ID to receive free period products would discriminate against homeless people, who often struggle to obtain or hold onto documentation.
Despite widespread concern and queries surrounding the bill in its current form, most ministers agreed that the general principles of ending period poverty and promoting dignity were worth supporting.
And that was represented in the vote with 112 MSPs voting in favour of the bill with none voting against while one member abstained.
The vote followed a rally held outside Parliament, led by Monica Lennon and her team, at which an estimated 200 people including representatives of YWCA Scotland, Unite the union, Girlguiding Scotland and the Equality Network turned out to encourage politicians to pass the bill.
YWCA programmes coordinator Elena Super told The Big Issue: “The atmosphere was really positive. It felt uplifting and inclusive, plus there was a huge variety of people there.
“I imagine there would have been a different rally if we had been going in without that surprise government backing.
“Even getting the bill past stage one will be a really positive step.”
The YWCA was one of the first community groups in Scotland to link up with period poverty-busting social enterprise Hey Girls, who collaborated with The Big Issue to create last week’s period issue.
Soper emphasised that women who are refugees or living in poverty desperately need legislation like Lennon’s bill.
She added: “One of the things that’s particularly great about this bill is that it’s really inclusive in terms of gender. We definitely do talk about this as a women’s issue but it also affects non-binary people and trans men. The bill itself is quite open about that inclusivity.
“This issue is just one element of women’s health, something which we know is underfunded and under-researched. This is one area where we can make things right. You shouldn’t have to wear a tampon for four days or get an infection from using socks as pads.”
Parties will now put forward their desired amendments for the bill as it is considered by a group of ministers before it goes back to Parliament for a final decision.