Free sanitary products roll out to Edinburgh schools

Hey Girls founder Celia Hodson in her warehouse.
Hey Girls founder Celia Hodson in her warehouse.
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Schools in Edinburgh will be some of the first in the country to provide free sanitary products in schools from the start of the new term next week.

All girls from P7 to sixth year will have access to pads, tampons and menstrual cups during term time, at weekends and in the holidays at school thanks to a grant from the Scottish Government.

The scheme has been bolstered by a successful pilot in Aberdeen that saw women and girls from low-income households supplied with the free sanitary products for a six-month period.

The roll-out across schools in Scotland aims to help thousands of girls and young women access products that can be too costly for them and their families to afford.

One in five women in Scotland has experienced period poverty, according to a poll carried out by grassroots political organisation Women for Independence.

It was found nearly one fifth of women surveyed used items of clothing, loo roll and newspapers as alternatives as they had been forced to prioritise other household essentials such as food. Feelings of shame and isolation were reported, with many missing out on work and education as a result.

Eleven per cent of women had suffered a “significant health impact” from not being able to change their products as often as they would have liked.

A survey carried out by Plan International UK found one in seven 14 to 21-year-olds had struggled to afford sanitary wear.

One in ten have had to improvise with alternative materials.

The new initiative was backed by Dunbar-based social enterprise Hey Girls UK, who provided the sanitary protection products to Edinburgh schools.

Celia Hodson, who founded Hey Girls with daughters Becky and Kate, said: “At Hey Girls, we have one clear goal – to eradicate period poverty.

For every box of sanitary products we sell, we give away a pack to a girl or woman in need in the UK.

“We are delighted to be supplying Edinburgh schools with Hey Girls products.

“This represents a huge commitment by the City of Edinburgh Council in tackling period poverty, which is just fantastic.

“In this instance, we’re not only supplying girls with pads, but with tampons, cups and re-usable pads too.

“It’s a really great thing that girls are being given the choice to choose the product that they’re most comfortable with using, or even trying out something else.”

A spokeswoman for Girlguiding Scotland, which launched a campaign to tackle period poverty in Scotland, said: “We’re delighted that City of Edinburgh Council has committed to making period products free and accessible for everyone who needs them.

“At Girlguiding Scotland our young members have been speaking out and taking action to end the stigma around period poverty by making their voices heard in Parliament and collecting supplies for local shelters and food banks.

“We want to ensure that no girl is held back by period poverty and making sure products are free and accessible in schools is an important step.”

Engender Scotland, an Edinburgh-based organisation that aims to advance equality between men and women, have been instrumental in lobbying for access to free sanitary products for students in schools, colleges and universities.

Communications assistant Maxine Blane said: “Menstruation is painful, inconvenient, expensive and stigmatised.

“Recent work by colleagues at Women for Independence and others shows that lack of adequate, affordable sanitary provision can lead to young women and girls missing out on days of education.

“Engender welcomes the introduction of free menstrual products as a step towards improving women and girls’ health and facilitating women and girls’ fuller participation in public life.”

A spokesperson for the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said: “The EIS is delighted to see movement on the issue of period poverty.

“In a climate of austerity, with one in five children in Scotland living in poverty, the cost of essential sanitary products is yet another expense that low-income families struggle to 
meet.

“The EIS has a long-standing commitment to promoting gender equality and to highlighting the deleterious impact of poverty on education.

“Tackling period poverty is an important element of both priorities.

“The EIS supports the principle of universal free entitlement to these items so that pupils, students and staff can focus on teaching and learning and be safeguarded from stigma. Access to sanitary products is a health and wellbeing issue, and it’s about dignity.”

rohese.devereux@jpress.co.uk