LONDON — Scotland is poised to become the first country to end “period poverty” by providing free sanitary products to women of all ages in the country.
Free menstrual products are already available to students in high schools, colleges and universities in Scotland. And a bill passed by the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday will make pads and tampons free across the board.
Monica Lennon, the lawmaker who submitted the draft proposal of the bill, said she was thrilled that it had attracted support across Scotland, including from civic groups and “individuals who have had their own lived experience of period poverty and know what it is like not to have access to products when they need them.”
Although the bill passed with 112 votes in favor, none against and one abstention, some lawmakers warned that the legislation faces a few hurdles before becoming law, though they were regarded as surmountable. One of those is a yearly cost that the government puts at about $31 million.
Tampons are taxed at 5 percent in Britain — a levy that the British government has been unable to abolish because of European Union rules that class sanitary products as “luxury” products. The bloc has pledged to remove all taxes on menstruation products by 2022.
About 62 million pounds, or $80 million, collected in taxes on sales of sanitary products in Britain has been diverted to women’s charities since 2015, the minister for civil society, Mims Davies, said last year.
Nearly 10 percent of girls in Britain have been unable to afford period products, and 19 percent have resorted to using substitutes like rags, newspapers and toilet paper because of the high cost, according to research by a girls rights charity, Plan International UK.
The provision of free products is also aimed at combating the culture of silence and stigma surrounding menstruation, which the charity says can pose physical, sexual and mental health risks for young women. Nearly half of girls age 14 to 21 in Britain are embarrassed by their periods, the research found.
Last month, women’s groups criticized supermarkets for putting up anti-shoplifting messages across sanitary product shelves, warning that such campaigns stigmatize women who cannot afford the products.
“Period poverty is an issue that affects women and girls across the U.K., with more than a quarter having missed work or school because they couldn’t afford or didn’t have access to menstrual products,” said Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party.
“A decade of austerity has pushed many women into a desperate financial situation,” she said, “and many have been forced to use makeshift items, shoplift or simply go without these basic necessities.”