Challenge Poverty Week: Tackling Period Poverty

Monica Lennon, MSP for Central Scotland and Scottish Labour inequalities spokesperson

Challenge Poverty Week 2017 is here, and this year I’m using the opportunity to highlight the campaign I’ve been working on to highlight what can be one of the less obvious or hidden impacts of poverty: the struggle to manage menstruation if you’re living on a low income.

Periods can still be an awkward topic for most people to talk about openly – and if you’re trying to survive on a low income, are homeless or have certain health conditions, talking about and managing your period isn’t just awkward, it can be impossible and messy.

Period poverty, which can lead to people not changing sanitary products frequently enough or improvising with rags, is both humiliating and unsafe, and that’s why I’ve been using my voice in the Scottish Parliament to draw attention to this issue since I was elected in 2016.

At present, there is no mechanism or statutory position which ensures the provision of sanitary products for anyone who needs them. In some cases, women on low incomes are forced to make the choice between sanitary provisions and other basic necessities – or indeed rely on the kindness of strangers to provide them. When I first asked the Scottish Government about the topic in the summer of 2016, their response was that they had no plans to provide free sanitary products to women and girls but it was their understanding that foodbanks could provide them.

Thankfully, thanks to continued pressure – from a cross-party section of MSPs as well as countless amazing activists who are tackling the problem of period poverty in their own communities – the Scottish Government has come a long way on this issue since last August.

The Aberdeen pilot scheme for low-income women is a really welcome step in the right direction, and I am looking forward to seeing its outcome. In addition, the announcement in the Programme for Government 2017/18 which has agreed with my member’s bill proposals to introduce free sanitary products in every school, college and university is an amazing result. No women, girl or trans person who experiences menstruation in Scotland in 2017 should have to miss out on their education purely because they can’t afford vital sanitary protection. I’m delighted that the Scottish Government are listening to the campaigners on this topic.

However, I believe we need to enshrine this right to sanitary products in law – and that’s why I’m pushing ahead with proposals that would grant universal access to free sanitary products to every woman who needs them. The Aberdeen pilot will help a small number of women in the North East, but there are thousands of people across Scotland, every day, who are struggling to manage their period because they are living in poverty. The provision of free condoms via NHS boards is already available in Scotland, and has been for some time – so why can we not do the same for period products?

That’s why I’ve proposed we establish a similar system for the provision of sanitary products, that would ensure everyone who needs sanitary products, especially those on low-incomes, have an easily accessible way to do so. I launched my proposed Member’s Bill consultation in August, and the survey runs until the 8 December 2017.

I believe it will be an effective way to address a hidden aspect of poverty which, until this last year, has never before been so high on the political agenda.  I want as many people as possible to give their views on the survey and help shape change. You can respond to the survey at http://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/EndingPeriodPoverty/ and full details of the consultation document can be found at http://www.periodpoverty.scot

By working together, we can ensure that period poverty becomes a thing of the past.

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