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Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill: Paving the Way Forward for Equity

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By: Elizabeth Kemigisha, WI-HER Associate, Knowledge Management

Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU) is a youth-led organization dedicated to reaching youth with integrated SRHR information. Source: PHAU
Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU) is a youth-led organization dedicated to reaching youth with integrated SRHR information. Source: PHAU

A few weeks ago, the Period Products Bill was passed in Scotland. This bill will see to it that all those who need to access period products can do so free of charge. The Labour MSP Monica Lennon, who tabled the bill back in 2019, said that she sees these products as a basic necessity and believes that providing access to them is important for people’s dignity. And while she supports what the Scottish government has already done to provide free period products to those in need, she wants to go further by making this a legal requirement.

The bill requires that the Scottish government set up a country-wide scheme to allow anyone who needs period products to get them for free. Since 2017, the government has invested millions of pounds to fund free period products in educational institutions. Still, this law makes it a legal requirement, which means the government holds power to make other public and private bodies provide period products for free to anyone who needs them. This includes the people who menstruate and are facing financial challenges but do not have access to the educational institutions where these have been provided previously.

The stigma associated with menstruation is one barrier that needs to be addressed. Source: PHAU
The stigma associated with menstruation is one barrier that needs to be addressed. Source: PHAU

There is a substantial financial barrier to individuals who menstruate and are supporting themselves and their families; they are sometimes forced to decide between food and menstrual health products. Additionally, even with the existing gender pay gap (globally), people who menstruate have more financial burdens to cover their biological needs, which further drives financial inequity. Furthermore, menstrual health products in emergency and conflict settings are not considered essential and are often cut from emergency delivery packages for refugees and other displacement settings. Perhaps this bill will also impact Scotland’s support for emergency relief efforts globally.

Everywhere around the world, a stigma attached to menstruation or the inability to afford period products stops girls from going to school. In low-income settings like Uganda, these girls risk dropping out of school and experiencing early pregnancies, child marriages, domestic violence, and malnourishment. According to a Meniscus report by the BioMedical Centre in Uganda, when girls are on their periods, absenteeism is at 28% compared to 7% during non-period days. Furthermore, the girls reported that a lack of adequate materials for menstrual hygiene management led to school absenteeism. Additionally, in the PMA2020/Uganda report, only 35.0% of women in Uganda report having everything they need to manage their menstruation.

Lillibet Namakula, the team leader at Public Health Ambassadors Uganda shared her thoughts on what would happen if Uganda passed a similar bill. She said, “If the same (Scotland) bill was passed in Uganda, making MHM [menstrual hygiene management] products free and accessible for all, we would be able to witness: an increased number of girls encouraged to stay longer in school; girls and women empowered to make informed choices with a boost in their overall status and self-esteem; and an improved standard of living of women, girls, and their families over time.”

Lillibet added that women and girls do not menstruate in a vacuum. Because of this, the bill can only have a positive impact if all the relevant sectors and stakeholders in the WASH and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) community of practice prioritize menstrual health through appropriate policies, research and design, cross-sectoral programming, advocacy, and funding. She highlighted that we all have a part to play in empowering the women and girls in our lives to manage their menstruation safely, hygienically, with confidence, and without shame.

Adequate materials for menstrual hygiene management can help encourage girls to stay in school. Source: PHAU
Adequate materials for menstrual hygiene management can help encourage girls to stay in school. Source: PHAU

Whereas Uganda has the Menstrual Hygiene Management Charter- Uganda 2015, in which selected Ministries and Civil Society Organizations commit to working together to promote the rights of girls and women during and after their menstrual cycle, these efforts could be doubled or even tripled to reach more girls and women. In doing this, we will achieve several of the 17 SDGs, from good health and quality education to gender equality and access to water and sanitation.

As a gender and youth advocate, I am thankful that Scotland has opened the door to conversations on the free provision of period products, as this is another brick in paving the way for equity. I look forward to engaging in these conversations back at home as they are integral in strengthening girls’ and women’s rights to love their bodies, be treated with dignity, and have agency to pursue their life goals and contribute to development in their communities.

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