Why Every Country Should Follow Scotland and Provide Free Period Products

by Brianna Allison

should menstrual products be free

This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s fall editorial intern Brianna Allison. Find her on Instagram at @ballison7. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at thezillennialzine@gmail.com.

Dealing with periods can be a real pain in the uterus. People who menstruate are forced to go about their daily routine while bleeding for 3-7 days and dealing with painful cramps, mood swings, hormonal acne, and food cravings. Not only do they have to manage these horrible symptoms, but they also have to purchase feminine hygiene products that cost anywhere from $14 to $20 a month.

The average age periods start is 12 years old, while menopause typically begins around 51 years old. That means, on average, a person bleeds each month for 39 years, which is equivalent to spending 10 total years menstruating. So in a lifetime, people with periods spend approximately $6,700 to $9,600 just on period products.

In recent years, these high costs have started important conversations around the world, specifically about the accessibility and affordability of menstrual products. The question arises: should menstrual products be free?

Last week, on August 15, 2022, Scotland became the first country to answer yes to that question and passed an act for establishments to provide free feminine hygiene products (Woo!!) Now, it’s time for the rest of the world to answer.

Scotland’s Period Products Act

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Before we get into why countries should make menstrual products free, let’s take a look at Scotland’s Period Products Act and the reasoning behind it.

A 2018 study found that, in Scotland, one in four students struggled to afford menstrual products. To combat this issue, Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free tampons and pads for its citizens in every public establishment.

In the wake of Scotland’s Period Products Act passing, Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison declared, “Providing access to free period products is fundamental to equality and dignity, and removes the financial barriers to accessing them.”

Monica Lennon, a member of the Scottish Parliament, sparked conversations about the Period Products Act in 2016, and the bill was then passed in 2020. In August of 2022, Scottish Parliament also enabled Scottish Ministers to place a duty on other specified “public service bodies to provide free period products. Lennon advocated for the bill to combat period poverty, an issue that plagues people with periods across the globe.

So what is period poverty?

Period poverty is defined as the “lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these.” It is estimated that 500 million people worldwide are affected and unable to purchase necessary menstrual products. The inability to obtain these products can lead to their absence at work, school, or other daily activities. It also forces many to use cheaper alternatives in place of period products, such as socks, toilet paper, or even bread.

If they do have access to a limited supply of products, they may leave a tampon in longer than the recommended time because they aren’t sure when they’ll have another one to use. In both cases, this increases the risk of infection, specifically Toxic Shock Syndrome which can be fatal.

Who is most affected by period poverty?

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Across the globe, marginalized communities are impacted the most, specifically people of lower socioeconomic status, people who are homeless, and people who are incarcerated.

In the United States, many of these communities are Black and Latina. A study by researchers at George Mason University reported that, over the course of a year, Latina and Black college students experienced period poverty at rates higher than other students.

For those who experienced period poverty on a monthly basis, the study reported significantly high levels of depression, with over 68% of respondents suffering from moderate to severe depression. The higher levels of depression are expected, considering “there are 16.9 million people living in poverty who menstruate in the U.S., with about two-thirds having to choose between buying food or menstrual products.”

Aside from the United States, period poverty is a prevalent issue all over the world, with some considering it a “global crisis.” In some countries, the stigma of menstruation and lack of access to period products can be very isolating. In other countries and even areas of the United States, access to menstrual products is a privilege reserved for the wealthy.

However, a few countries, “including New Zealand and Kenya, distribute products for free in public schools.”  According to one article, “Lebanon, Kenya, and India have abolished taxes on menstrual products.”

Similarly, the United States has made a few steps in the right direction to help end period poverty and make affordable and accessible period products. Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) has introduced the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021, which would help fund free period products for students, people in prison and those experiencing homelessness. Although Congress has yet to review this legislation, 17 states and Washington D.C. have moved forward with their own laws that require schools to provide free access to period products to all of their students.

What is the tampon tax?

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by THE PAD PROJECT (@thepadproject)

A majority of U.S states still tax their tampons and consider menstrual products as a “nonessential luxury,” along with cigarettes and alcohol. More than half of these states also have some of the highest poverty rates in the nation. Of the top ten states with the highest poverty rate, 90% still tax tampons, excluding only Louisiana which just passed a sales tax exemption in July of 2022.

In terms of federal sales tax, many have noticed menstrual products do not have the same privilege of tax exemption as the traditionally male products, Viagra and Rogaine. According to an NBC article, there has been a 10% price increase on menstrual products from July 2021 to July 2022. Since these products are excluded from federal assistance programs, those who need them most are paying a 4% to 8% sales tax across the country.

As the United States tries to recover from the pandemic, inflation and the economic crisis, the accessibility and affordability of period products continues to impact people across the nation.

Why should menstrual products be free?

Menstruation is not a choice but a natural part of life. So why should people who menstruate have to pay thousands of dollars for period products when they are necessities, not luxuries? It is unethical to force people to decide between purchasing tampons or groceries. It is unethical that people have to miss school or work because they can’t afford period products. Lastly, it is unethical that people have to put their own health at risk because they don’t have access to sanitary products.

As Monica Lennon said, Scotland may be “the first but won’t be the last” to make period products more accessible and end period poverty. Scotland’s monumental bill should be a wake-up call to other countries that the high costs of period products is discriminatory and unfair to over half of the world’s citizens.

Want to get involved? Follow movements such as Free the Tampons, Days for Girls and Tax-Free Period to donate, volunteer and advocate for free menstrual products around the world!

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