Period poverty has become a moral imperative for governments all over the world, and with good reason. Due to lack of funds, thousands of women and girls across the UK are forced to resort to unhygienic, and sometimes dangerous methods during their menstrual cycle. In fact, the latest research suggests that 1 in 10 girls ages 14-21 are affected by this issue. This statistic becomes even more upsetting when considering that just last year, over 137,700 girls missed school because they could not afford period products. However, in 2018, Scotland has taken legislative action in order to solve this issue. In an attempt to keep young girls in school, Scotland became the first country in the world to offer free sanitary products to all of its students. However, period poverty also affects thousands of women no longer in education, and local Scottish councils are also slowly making progress by providing free products in public toilets.
The State of Period Poverty in Scotland
According to research conducted by Women for Independence, nearly 1 in 5 women living in Scotland have suffered from period poverty, far above the UK average. For many of these women, prioritising other household essentials, such as food, was given more importance than buying sanitary products. However, period poverty does not necessarily mean a complete lack of access to menstrual products. Sometimes, women simply do not have enough products to last throughout their menstrual cycle, which can be equally as dangerous. In Scotland, 22% of women reported that they were not able to change their products as often as they would like, and as many as 11% of women reported some sort of health complications due to this problem. Health problems are reported to range from urinary tract infection to thrush, all of which can then have further financial repercussions when treatment is needed. For women who have no access to period products at all, items such as socks, torn up t-shirts and other rags are commonly used as alternative, dangerous methods that can also cause health complications. A significant number of women have even reported resorting to public toilets for free toilet paper instead of sanitary towels, or relying on donations to be able to use safe menstrual products. Whether these women have partial access to menstrual products or not, their health and wellbeing is being put at severe risk due to a lack of resources.
Free Sanitary Products for Students
A large amount of emphasis during the campaign against period poverty has been placed upon keeping young girls in school, as many who cannot afford menstrual products are forced to stay at home. In Scotland, a recent survey indicated that out of 2,000 students asked, 1 in 4 girls admitted they struggled to gain access to menstrual products. The first push by the Scottish government to combat this issue was in August of this year, when schools and universities were targeted first. The government provided £5.2 million towards the scheme to provide free sanitary products for all of Scotland’s 395,000 students.Several organisations advocating for the end of period poverty have praised the initiative. Some, such as Hey Girls, have even played a major role in the process by donating menstrual products to Scottish local councils.
However, Scotland’s war against period poverty has not stopped at student wellbeing. Though providing menstrual products for students and keeping girls in education is vital, with the success of this initiative, many have placed their attention on period poverty outside the school gates. North Ayrshire council became the first UK council to introduce such a scheme, focusing on public buildings such as libraries and community centres. Joe Cullinane, the Scottish Labour leader of the council, has expressed his support in extending the scheme to end student period poverty to cover the mothers and sisters of the students as well. He states that sanitary products should be provided in public washroom services in the same manner that toilet paper or hand wash are.After all, if a mother with no access to menstrual products cannot take her child to school for this reason, her daughter’s free sanitary products may not prevent her from missing out on school. The scheme will cost £40,000, the majority of which will be spent on providing sanitary dispensers in public bathrooms across the area. For years, women’s struggles to gain access to menstrual products have gone unnoticed, largely due to a stigma surrounding the topic of menstruation. Scotland’s continued efforts to end period poverty are not only helping to ensure emotional and medical wellbeing for women across the country, but are also helping to tackle stigma surrounding menstruation. By discussing these issues openly and shedding light on the struggles that women without menstrual products go through, it is possible that having tampons readily available in public spaces may not be seen as a taboo for much longer.
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