In November of last year, there was a brief moment of light amid the darkness that was 2020. Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free for all.
Just as the weekend and the eight-hour-day are now regarded by many as a given, future generations may be in disbelief that period provisions ever had to be fought for.
Yet fought for they were: by multiple grassroots campaigners and ordinary people who believe that every person who menstruates has the right to safe, hygienic and dignified periods.
Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon spearheaded the four-year-long campaign — but it was pressure from below that led to the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act finally being passed and protected by law.
The SNP initially opposed the Act, claiming, rather absurdly, that making sanitary products free would trigger tampon “raids” from south of the border. They also fretted about the cost of such necessary items — despite the fact that statistics show that roughly 49 percent of UK school-age girls and menstruating young people have missed a day or more of school due to period poverty.
A survey of over 1,000 women and menstruating people in Scotland found that more than a fifth had struggled to afford sanitary products at some point in their lives — and had even resorted to using alternatives such as toilet paper, dishcloths or rags.
During the Covid-19 crisis, the problem has only got worse. Bloody Good Period — a charity focused on providing free sanitary products to vulnerable people and low-income workers — say they’ve seen a six-fold increase in demand since the pandemic started.
Despite the initial reluctance from the Scottish government, the campaign, bolstered by trade unionists, women’s rights campaigners, community groups and cross-party grassroots activists, continued to push for the change in legislation.
Support was widespread — it became common in Scotland to see menstrual provisions provided free of charge in public toilets. Even Celtic Football Club announced that free sanitary products would be available at its stadium in 2018. In February 2020, activists rallied outside the Scottish parliament in support of the Bill.
Eventually, the SNP buckled under the pressure. They switched to backing the Bill, and on 24 November MSPs unanimously approved it.
The takeaway from this is clear: it was the power of collective action that led to such a progressive win.
Looking ahead in the continuing fight against gender inequality and poverty in all its forms, we must remember that when we unite together, we can win.
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