The Scottish Government heard a debate over the cost of feminine hygiene products the evening of Tuesday, 27 September. Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s Inequalities spokesperson, led the discussion and received cross-party support.
Lennon called for the Scottish Government to investigate the accessibility of sanitary products for women and girls in poverty. She had previously raised the issue with health secretary Shona Robinson, who admitted in the debate that no specific work had been done.
The debate follows the abolition of the widely opposed ‘Tampon Tax’ in March, which saw the UK Government agree to rid feminine sanitary products of their five per cent VAT rate.
Following research that the average woman uses around 12,ooo feminine hygiene products in her lifetime, Lennon stressed the unaffordable cost that this entails for some women.
On the floor, she stated: “To remain healthy and safe during menstruation, women and girls need adequate access to tampons, sanitary towels and related products but it is an uncomfortable truth that not every woman and girl in Scotland can afford to buy essential feminine hygiene products when they need them.”
Lennon described this as “period poverty”, and called it “a secret but real occurrence of shame and embarrassment for young girls.”
Other MSPs also expressed concern that in some cases, lack of access can result in girls missing school and women avoiding their workplaces.
They also observed that in addition to mental wellbeing, regularly changing these hygiene products is vital to preventing life-threatening diseases such as Toxic Shock Syndrome and Sepsis.
Research from charities including Scottish Women’s Aid and the Trussell Trust confirm that many women are dependent on donations. However, food banks often lack the supplies of tampons and towels that are needed.
Rhoda Grant, MSP for the Highlands and Islands, noted on the floor that: “It is a bigger problem in rural Scotland because everything costs much more in the small shops that supply those areas.
“They also have fewer opportunities to access organisations such as the Trussell Trust. That work will provide a lifeline for some women, but those organisations do not operate as much in rural areas,” said Grant.
Calls for extended provision in Scotland follow recent global examples, such as in New York City, where free sanitary products will now be given in schools, prisons and homeless shelters.
In the debate, Gillian Martin, MSP for Aberdeenshire East commented that: “an ideal solution would be to have open and universal access but we must be realistic about what our National Health Service can afford to do.”
Martin added that targeted provision in both schools and for women on low incomes could be options for the future. She called for an investigation into the associated costs and impacts of such provision.
Image: Women’s Voices for the Earth