As Scotland’s students head back to the classroom for the 2018-19 school year, all schools, colleges, and universities across the country will provide access to free sanitary products.
It’s part of a £5.2 million government program that aims to ensure no student has to miss school because of their period. Every school will now provide free tampons, sanitary pads, panty liners, and reusable menstrual cups and pads to any person who has a period, including transgender men and nonbinary individuals, under guidelines set forth by the Scottish Government. Each school will consult with students and staff as to the best way to deliver this promise.
A survey of more than 2,000 Scottish students, 92 percent of whom were in secondary or post-secondary school, conducted in March found that around one-in-four students had struggled to access sanitary products. In the United Kingdom, more than 137,000 girls missed school in the last year because they couldn’t afford sanitary items.
Known as “period poverty”, a lack of access to period products is a barrier to female education, and those who don't have adequate access are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression, less likely to do well in school, and more likely to struggle to find employment later on, further contributing to gender gaps.
Simply put, when people don’t have access to period products, they don’t show up. In a global poll of 90,000 women from 190 countries, nearly 25 percent of women surveyed had missed school, work, or an event because of their period. A UNESCO report estimates that 1-in-10 girls in Sub-Saharan Africa will miss school because of their period, equaling up to 20 percent of any given school year. In Ghana, girls miss up to five days of school a month because they don’t have adequate access to clean facilities or sanitary products at school. Around the world, only 12 percent of young people with periods have proper access to the products they need, including an estimated 50,000 homeless Americans.
The issue of access is not just in developing countries, either. In the US, the "tampon tax” makes access to period products more difficult. In California, for example, women pay about $7 per month for 40 years of tampons and sanitary napkins, adding up to more than $20 million annually in taxes. On the other hand, some US states have passed laws requiring schools to offer free period products.
“Periods are a part of life but they shouldn’t be a point of inequality, compromise someone’s quality of life or be a distraction from making the very most of time spent at university so this is a positive step,” said Susannah Lane, head of Public Affairs at Universities Scotland, in a statement.
The Scottish government says increasing access will not only help students have an equal opportunity at education but will also help to remove embarrassing stigmas behind having a period. An additional £500,000 will be used to distribute period products to an estimated 18,800 low-income people across the country.