Scotland: 'Access to menstrual products is a right. Period.'

Scottish lawmakers are pushing a bill that offers free sanitary products in public places, following its 2018 decision to provide free access to menstrual products in schools. England and U.S. cities are pursuing similar initiatives.

Scott Heppell/AP
The flags of Britain, Scotland, and the European Union wave outside the Scottish parliament on Jan. 31, 2020. The Scottish parliament approved plans on Tuesday to make sanitary products freely available to all women, the first nation in the world to do so.

The Scottish parliament approved plans on Tuesday to make sanitary products freely available to all women, the first nation in the world to do so.

The legislation would make tampons and sanitary pads available at designated public places such as community centers, youth clubs, and pharmacies, at an estimated annual cost of 24.1 million pounds ($31.2 million).

The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill passed through its first stage with 112 votes in favor, none against, and one abstention. It now moves to the second stage, where members of the devolved Scottish parliament can propose amendments.

During the debate, the bill's proposer Monica Lennon said passing it would be a "milestone moment for normalizing menstruation in Scotland and sending out that real signal to people in this country about how seriously parliament takes gender equality."

Earlier on Tuesday, Ms. Lennon joined a rally gathered outside the Scottish parliament, and held a sign which said "Access to menstrual products is a right. Period."

Fellow lawmaker Alison Johnstone asked: "Why is it in 2020 that toilet paper is seen as a necessity but period products aren’t? Being financially penalized for a natural bodily function is not equitable or just."

In 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges, and universities.

Free tampons, sanitary pads, and other period products were made available to all state schools and colleges in England in January 2020 paid for with funding from the Department for Education (DfE) after a recent survey found that 42% of 14- to 21-year-olds in the United Kingdom said they had used makeshift sanitary protection, reported The Guardian. 

Sanitary products in the UK are currently taxed at 5%. Former Prime Minister David Cameron's government said it wanted to end that "tampon tax," but that its hands were tied by European Union rules which set tax rates for certain products.

The government announced it would drop the tax in 2016, but this has not happened yet.

The UK joins efforts already under way across the United States to provide free sanitary products in public locations. California and Utah are exploring initiatives to provide free menstrual products, and Nevada and New York have eliminated so-called “tampon taxes,” reported the Los Angeles Times. 

Critics to the initiatives say providing free sanitary products and eliminating taxes on those products creates an unfair fiscal burden on state budgets.

This story was reported by Reuters. Material from The Guardian and the Los Angeles Times were used in this report. 

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