Author: Darshan Patel
IV Year | The Maharaja Saiyajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara
In 2021, it became a legal right to access free period products in Scotland. Straightaway, Scotland became a torchbearer for the human rights of women. Few countries, states, and cities have passed various laws which mandate schools to provide period products to students, reckoning them as essential as toilet paper, making it a human right.
Despite that, there exist various societal blockages such as economic, social, religious, cultural and even political barriers which contribute to period poverty. Women and young girls are ostracized from basic activities, such as eating certain foods and socializing, all over the world. The lack of resources also becomes an obstacle for women and girls in going to work and school.
This article discusses the concept of period poverty and analyses the policies in some countries brought in to tackle it. It also discusses the approach adopted by Indian authorities in this regard.
“Period poverty” means a lack of access to menstrual products, sanitation facilities (hygiene), waste management and adequate education. To point out, it is a worldwide issue and affects roughly around 500 million people.
According to UNICEF, 1.7 billion people in the world live without basic sanitation services. To enumerate, in India, only 12% of menstruators have access to sanitary products, leaving the rest to use unsafe materials like rags and sawdust as substitutes.
People who experience period poverty may have physical as well as mental health risks. It makes one miss school or work and has stigmatizing effects like low self-esteem along with them being uncomfortable, upset and distressed. “Meeting the hygiene needs of all adolescent girls is a fundamental issue of human rights, dignity, and public health,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, former UNICEF Chief of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene.
Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act, 2021:
In 2020, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed The Free Period Products Bill. This Bill made it mandatory for pharmacies, youth clubs, and community centres to provide free products for menstruation to people in need.
Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) Monica Lennon brought this Bill in the Parliament. She had fiercely campaigned for 3 years to end period poverty in the country. Undeniably, it received all votes in its favour. In January 2021, this bill received Royal Assent to become an Act.
The government will bear £3.4 million in 2022-23. Despite the high cost, the impact on gender equality makes it a strong reform which is being commended globally with few other nations taking a similar approach.
“Local authorities and partner organizations have worked hard to make the legal right to access free period products a reality”, said Monica Lennon (MSP), “As the cost-of-living crisis takes hold, the Period Products Act is a beacon of hope which shows what can be achieved when politicians come together for the good of the people we serve.”
Free Period Products and Other Nations:
Being the first nation to come up with a reform, Scotland made it compulsory for schools to provide free period products in 2017. Early in 2020, Scotland became the first nation to bring in a proper bill in the parliament. As a result, many countries have come forward with making tampons and pads free to access for anyone in need.
In June 2021, New Zealand started providing free tampons and pads in all schools of the country as a move to increase school attendance and address poverty. This came shortly after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced it in February 2021. In 2018, the Australian government announced the provision for free pads and tampons in all public schools. Victoria became the first state to implement it in 2020. Following this, New South Wales launched a trial in March 2021 to test the rollout of free period products in schools.
The USA states of Illinois, Washington, New York, New Hampshire, and Virginia took a few steps into consideration for free tampons and pads in public schools, and to make easy access to them. Particularly, Washington governor Jay Inslee signed a bill in May 2021, stating that public schools, colleges and universities make free menstrual products available to all genders by the 2022-23 academic year.
France, on the other hand, started free distribution of organic period products in high schools in September 2020, after which in February 2021, French universities were instructed to install free tampons and pad dispensers which were all initiated by French President Emmanuel Macron.
Many more countries have contributed to making it a human right by reforms in one way or the other, like Botswana, South Africa, Seoul, Uganda and many others.
Kenya first eliminated the “tampon tax”, and then started distribution of free pads in public schools in 2018. Global Period Poverty Forum (GPPF) is all ready to hold its first forum in Brisbane, Australia. World leaders, and activists in this field will attend this conference.
Period Poverty and India:
As of now, India has been adopting specific measures- it has cut down the tax levied on menstrual products in 2020. In cabinet meetings, despite discussions on further advancements, no strong results have been received. Menstrual products are placed under a non-essential category in India, which is bizarre.
On one hand, people worship Goddesses and on the other, they consider women and young girls in society and families impure during their periods. Large amounts of money are used to build religious Gods and veteran leaders’ Statues and symbols. Instead, it should be used to provide free period products, making it a human right and to work in an advanced direction. Politicians elected to elevate society should also work on curbing the religious and social barriers that persist in India.
Our numbers are disturbing, with only a few having access to menstrual products. We should definitely take notes from other nations and bring in similar reforms as a developing nation.
Menstruation should be normalized, and the different stigmas around it should be destroyed. Proper and equal education should be imparted in schools irrespective of gender. The governments should work on making reforms in such areas rather than politicizing it and using the public’s tax money.
In conclusion, menstrual products are essential and should be made easily accessible to everyone in need. Elected leaders, especially females, should step up like MSP Monica Lennon, and have this as their primary agenda by leading everyone to easy and free access.
 Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act, 2021, 2021 asp 1.
 Leah Rodriguez, Period Poverty: Everything You Need to Know, GLOBAL CITIZEN (Feb. 6, 2019), https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/period-poverty-everything-you-need-to-know/.
 Leah Rodriguez, 20 Places Around the World Where Governments Provide Free Period Products, GLOBAL CITIZEN (Oct. 1, 2021), https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/free-period-products-countries-cities-worldwide/.
 Caitlin Geng, What to know about period poverty, MEDICALNEWSTODAY (Sept. 16, 2021), https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/period-poverty.
 Supra, note 2.
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 Claire Diamond, Period poverty: Scotland first in the world to make period products free, BBC (Aug. 15, 2022), https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-51629880#:~:text=Period%20poverty%3A%20Scotland%20first%20in%20world%20to%20make%20period%20products%20free,-By%20Claire%20Diamond&text=Scotland%20has%20become%20the%20first,%22anyone%20who%20needs%20them%22.
 GLOBAL PERIOD POVERTY FORUM, https://www.sharethedignity.org.au/global-period-poverty-forum (last visited Sept. 19, 2022).
Editor: Kusumita Banerjee