The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
Its passage means the government will now set up a nationwide program to "allow anyone who needs period products to get them free of charge." Schools, colleges and universities also must make period products available for free in bathrooms and the Scottish Government will now have the power to "make other public bodies provide period products for free," according to the legislation.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, wrote on Twitter after the bill passed that she was "proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation," which she heralded as an "important policy for women and girls."
Proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them. An important policy for women and girls. Well done to @MonicaLennon7 @ClydesdAileen and all who worked to make it happen https://t.co/4lckZ4ZYIY— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 24, 2020
Scotland began offering sanitary products for free in schools, colleges and universities two years ago.
Monica Lennon, sponsor of the Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Bill, has said that her goal was to make offering free sanitary products a legal requirement.
"A proud day for Scotland and a signal to the world that free universal access to period products can be achieved," Lennon wrote on Twitter after the bill passed.
Thank you to everyone who has campaigned for period dignity and to my MSP colleagues for backing the Bill tonight.— Monica Lennon (@MonicaLennon7) November 24, 2020
A proud day for Scotland and a signal to the world that free universal access to period products can be achieved. #freeperiodproducts 🏴 https://t.co/NC3e97jPuQ
Period poverty, when people cannot afford even the most basic of period supplies like pads and tampons, is an issue that affects women around the world.
At least half a billion women and girls globally lack facilities for managing their periods, according to a 2015 report from the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
In the United Kingdom, the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated period poverty, with 3 in 10 girls there struggling to afford or access products, according to a report released in May by Plan International, a girls' rights organization.
In the U.S., where women make up more than half of the population, women are more likely than men to live in poverty, and they spend an average of 2,535 days in their lifetime, or almost seven years, on their periods, according to UNICEF.
A survey released last year of low-income women in St. Louis found that nearly two-thirds couldn't afford menstrual hygiene products in the past year, and more than 1 in 5 said they had the same problem every month. The women said they instead had to use cloth, rags, tissues, toilet paper and sometimes diapers or paper towels, according to the report published in Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Poor menstrual hygiene poses health risks for women, including reproductive issues and urinary tract infections.
The taboo around menstruation and the lack of access to menstrual products also hurts women economically because it costs them money for products and may keep them from jobs and school, advocates say. It also sets women back mentally and in a society where something that happens to them naturally is demeaned or even not discussed.
"Most of us have been conditioned for all of our lives to not talk about menstruation," said Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a lawyer and author of "Periods Gone Public," told "Good Morning America" last year. "And the things that keep us potentially from succeeding are often the things that happen to be what we don't talk about in polite society."