Scotland Passes Bill Making it the First Country to Provide Menstrual Products Free for All
Written by Dhwani Kharel (IMHER Research Assistant)
With the final passage of The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill on November 24, 2020, Scotland has now officially become the first country to decide to provide free menstrual products to all menstruators.
Didn’t that Already Pass Though…? (Nope)
In March 2020, IMHER urged caution as many sources preemptively reported that Scotland had passed legislation making period products free for all menstruators.
With headlines like: “Scotland Set to be the First Country to Provide Free Pads and Tampons,” “Scotland to make menstrual products free,” “Scotland becomes first country to end ‘period poverty’ with the offering of free menstrual hygiene products”, many news sources and activists were jumping the gun at celebrating the passage of this bill.
The excitement by those championing progress on gender equity issues was understandable. After all, only a small number of countries worldwide even provide menstrual products for free to girls in public schools; the idea of providing them to women of all ages – and regardless of need – represents a monumental “first.”
However, at that earlier point, the bill had merely cleared the first of multiple stages required to officially pass. And much can potentially go wrong as any bill makes its way through a complex legislative process.
Now that the bill has been approved unanimously by the Scottish Parliament, it is reasonably safe to assume that it will move forward towards implementation. Technically, the bill still requires “royal assent” from the constitutional monarchy; however, that is widely considered to be a formality, since royal assent is rarely withheld in practice.
Policy vs. Implementation
SP Bill 45, introduced by lawmaker Monica Lennon, comes with a yearly cost of around 24 million pounds—approximately $32 million. Now the Scottish government is tasked with setting up a country-wide distribution plan. Full implementation is required within 12 months after the bill receives royal assent.
The implementation stage can be a critical – and sometimes fraught – stage for legislation around menstrual hygiene. For example, Kenya passed a bill to provide menstrual products to school girls in 2017. It represented a significant legislative success on paper, and celebrations for that progress ensued; however, as IMHER previously reported, those working on MHM in Kenya have said that the initiative had not resulted in the availability of menstrual supplies in most schools as of the spring of 2020.
However, given the results of Scotland’s previous efforts to provide product access, there seems to be cause for optimism.
In 2018, Scotland passed a bill which required schools and universities to provide free products to menstruators. Within the first six months of implementation, this £5.2 million fund reportedly delivered more than eight million free products to school and university students. In total, the government has invested more than £15 million, and had expanded the reach of the program to also include libraries and recreational facilities in 2019. Even so, it is important to check in to see whether the legislative victory has resulted in an actual increase to product accessibility.
Other Scottish Programs to Address Menstrual Health Management
In addition to providing products, the Scottish government also launched a marketing campaign called “Let’s Call Periods, Periods” in January 2020. The campaign aired on television, in movie theaters, and in outdoor and online advertising. A total of £202,108.48 was invested in the initiative, which targeted 16-24-year olds, but its effects are unknown. The marketing campaign will not extend beyond the 2019-2020 year.
Additionally, the Scottish government had announced plans to launch a “Locater App” to inform menstruators where to access products. This plan appeared to lose ground, as the Scottish government stated in an Freedom of Information Release that there were no plans to launch the app. However, on the same day, the Scottish government wrote that this app may be implemented should SR 45 (the bill that just passed) be approved. As such, its status is currently still unclear.