Comment: Period poverty is a question of human dignity

Delays in benefits caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit is said to be leaving women without money to use for sanitary products
Delays in benefits caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit is said to be leaving women without money to use for sanitary products
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Scotland is taking steps to become the first country in the world to provide its poorest women with free sanitary protection.

This is a groundbreaking move and one which, like the smoking ban, could see many others follow suit.

“Period poverty” has become a major issue in recent months. Films such as ‘I, Daniel Blake’, which portrayed a young woman forced to shoplift tampons because she could not afford to buy them, have highlighted the issue in popular culture. In the US, New York last year announced that it would be doing something similar - by providing free sanitary items in all public schools, jails and homeless shelters.

Sanitary towels and tampons are expensive. Yet they are not a luxury, they are a necessity.

Those working in some of our most deprived communities tell of women resorting to using newspaper or socks instead of sanitary towels and young women missing days at school or college in order to deal with something which should be a natural and inobtrusive part of life. There are health risks, such as toxic shock syndrome, but the social and psychological ones are arguably greater.

This is at its essence an issue of dignity and fairness. You do not have to be overly cynical to believe that the issue may have been addressed far sooner if it affected men only.

The scheme launched today is a pilot project aimed at women in some of the country’s most deprived communities.

Small-scale projects are already offering support to women unable to afford sanitary products, including ones organised by South Lanarkshire College and the National Union of Students, while Monthlies, which provides a pay-for menstruation subscription box service, also offers free products to women who need support by partnering with food banks and homeless shelters.

It is a patchwork system, however, which does not guarantee that the women who need the support most will actually receive it.

That is why the Scottish Government is right to get involved. The expected costs - £10,000 for 1000 women over six months - are not excessive, espeically when compared with the difference that it can make to women’s lives.

The Monthlies charitable project might also provide a model for rolling the service out across the country with the support of the manufacturers of sanitary products.