Scotland to provide free sanitary towels to low-income women

Scotland will today take a significant step towards becoming the first country in the world to provide free feminine sanitary products to low-income women and girls with the launch of a Scottish Government pilot project today.

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

The six-month initiative across seven regeneration areas in Aberdeen is aimed at tackling “period poverty” which sees some women unable to afford sanitary protection.

The Scottish Government will use the results to inform future policies on tackling the issue across Scotland.

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Equalities Secretary Angela Constance will officially launch the scheme while visiting Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE), the social enterprise leading the project in the city.

The initiative will see products distributed to three secondary schools and North East Further Education College, as well as a range of organisations such as the Cyrenians, Women’s Aid and HomeStart.

Teaching unions such as the Educational Institute of Scotland, Scotland’s largest teaching union, have said period poverty can also lead to pupils and students missing school and college.

The issue of “period poverty” was highlighted in Ken Loach’s Bafta-winning film I, Daniel Blake, written by Scottish screenwriter Paul Laverty, in which one the characters is caught shoplifting sanitary products.

Last night Dave Simmers, chief executive of CFINE, said that his organisation had been given £10,000 by the Scottish Government to provide free protection to 1,000 women for six months.

Mr Simmers said: “We’ve been aware of this problem for many years after hearing about difficulties from women at our food banks. It’s been quite clear the cost of sanitary products are pricey at the best of times and can be exorbitant for many women who don’t have cash to spare. The overwhelming reason for women and people in general suffering poverty is the implementation of welfare reform. There are huge problems with benefits sanctions, delays in benefits caused by the roll-out of Universal Credit.”

Monica Lennon MSP, Labour’s inequalities spokeswoman, has led the campaign to end period poverty in Scotland, raising the subject in a cross-party debate in the Scottish Parliament and on International Women’s Day.

Ms Lennon’s members’ bill proposal on supplying free products to all women in Scotland, regardless of income, is currently going out to consultation.

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“I’m pleased the campaign I have started as an opposition MSP has pushed SNP ministers to act, but the reality is that women and girls urgently need national action now,” the MSP for Central Scotland said.

“A pilot scheme is a welcome step in the right direction, but we must go much further to help women and girls across the country who are facing a monthly struggle to access the products they need. We need to end period poverty and improve access to sanitary products right across Scotland and that’s why I will soon be launching a consultation on a Members’ Bill proposal which will give all women in Scotland the right to access these products for free, regardless of their income.

“I hope as many people as possible will take part in my consultation and that SNP ministers will embrace my ambition to make Scotland an example to the world on menstrual health.”

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said sanitary protection was a “human right” which can be thwarted by poverty.

“Access to period products such as tampons and napkins is a human right for women and girls, a right that is hugely constrained by poverty, stigma and abuse.

“Scottish Women’s Aid welcomes this pilot, and we are keen to see results that help identify good strategies for reducing stigma related to menstruation and other aspects of women’s reproductive health. Stigma and poverty are two very powerful tools in the hands of domestic abuse perpetrators, helping them to isolate and control women and girls.

“We hope this pilot will both consider coercive control and domestic abuse in its design and provide evidence of the best ways to remove barriers to reproductive health and autonomy for women and girls.”

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The pilot will ensure access to sanitary products for local women in seven regeneration areas of the city, and inform the future approach to the issue across Scotland.”