We're leading the world in tackling period poverty

New legislation means no one in Scotland will have to worry where their next tampon is coming from, says Monica Lennon
26th November 2020, 10:13am
Monica Lennon


We're leading the world in tackling period poverty

Why Scotland Is Leading The World In Tackling Period Poverty

There hasn't been a lot of good news during 2020, but this week Scotland's historic vote to consign period poverty to history was cheered around the world.

On Tuesday night, the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, a member's bill that I have steered through the Scottish Parliament after four years of campaigning, was passed unanimously by MSPs.

My member's bill has made free universal access to period products possible for all women, girls and people who menstruate in Scotland. And it has placed a legal duty on schools, colleges and universities to provide access to free period products. The result is that no one will ever have to worry about where their next tampon, pad or reusable is coming from.

Background: Scotland on course for period products 'world first'

Period poverty: How to fix the missed issue of lockdown

Roll out: How to end stigma around periods? Put students in charge

Opinion: 'Periods aren't shameful - let's talk about them in school'

Short read: Third of teachers unprepared to talk periods

Period poverty is a hidden problem in Scotland. In 2016, researching the extent of the issue was challenging and initially relied on anecdotal evidence. Teachers proved to be a crucial source of insight and I learned that as well as supplying pupils with food and pencils, some were regularly providing emergency sanitary pads to their students, and at their own expense.

Ending period poverty

One secondary school headteacher in my region told me that she had seen poverty increase in her classrooms year after year. She talked about the impact this was having on the mental health, wellbeing and the self-esteem of young people. For these reasons, she was supportive of free period products in schools.

When I formally kicked off the public consultation on the bill, I received dozens of letters from children from a school in the Moray area. One young girl said that she was already having her periods but was hard to get pads at home. It broke my heart. From the beginning, the EIS, Scotland's biggest teaching union, enthusiastically supported the campaign for free period products in school and I found similar support from educators, students and trade unions in further and higher education.


Scotland just became the first country in the world to provide free universal access to menstrual products.

The new law was passed unanimously.

It was led by Monica Lennon, an MP who campaigned tirelessly to end stigma faced by millions of girls and women. pic.twitter.com/PFuQGjoQQo

- Goodable (@Goodable) November 24, 2020

On a local visit to South Lanarkshire Council in late 2016, after I had held the Scottish Parliament's first-ever debate on periods and period poverty, a leadership team pledged to make period products free across their campus. I was delighted to attend the pioneering launch in January 2017.

My Scottish Labour colleague Councillor Joe Cullinane leads North Ayrshire Council, where further pioneering action was rolled out in 2017. All nine secondary schools within the authority were equipped with free period products, with young people having a huge say in how this would be introduced and communicated. Councillor Cullinane and his colleagues realised that periods don't stop at the school gates, so they went further and introduced period essentials to libraries and community centres.

To its credit, the Scottish government rolled out free period products in education settings one year later, and a pilot scheme in Aberdeen paved the way for improved community provision. This did not provide a safety net for everyone, but it has helped to make period products easier to get the length and breadth of Scotland.

I have always been determined that legislation was required, because too often the rights of women and girls are deprioritised. We saw that in the aftermath of the financial crash, which triggered a decade of austerity that disproportionately affected the lives of women and girls across the UK.

Periods don't stop in a pandemic. The public health crisis we are living through is also an economic crisis. Free universal access to period products has never been more needed.

My mission was always to change our laws to provide free universal access to period products. My vision, however, was to achieve period dignity for all women, girls and people who menstruate, and to eradicate menstrual stigma. Period. Scotland has made this possible and given other countries a glimpse of the future they could have, too.

Monica Lennon is a Labour MSP for Central Scotland

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters