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The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill passed through the first of three stages in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday by a vote of 112-0, with one abstention.
Its champion is Monica Lennon, a Scottish Parliament member who has led a years-long campaign to build support for the measure. She first proposed the bill in 2017.
“This is an amazing victory for everyone who has campaigned for free universal access to period products and who has convinced the Scottish Government to back this ground-breaking Bill,” Lennon told the Daily Record after the vote.
“Scotland has already taken important steps towards improving access to period products and tackling stigma but legislation will guarantee rights, ensure that current initiatives continue in future on a universal basis, and will help us achieve period dignity for all,” she added.
The legislation would create the legal obligation for the Scottish government to make sure period products are available for free for those who need them. The Scottish government estimates the cost to implement the legislation at £24 million annually (about $31 million).
The bill now goes to the second stage, in which members of Parliament can propose amendments. While the measure passed with near unanimity, some members warned that there is still much work to do before it is final.
The bill aims to alleviate “period poverty,” in which girls and women have difficulty accessing or affording menstrual products. One member of Parliament cited a 2019 report on the issue suggesting that while many women can afford to purchase their sanitary products, “those who most need the free products are the ones who are almost guaranteed not to ask for them.”
Since 2018, the Scottish government has made period products freely available in schools, colleges and universities — another global first. That program followed a survey of 2,000 students in Scotland that found 1 in 4 respondents struggled to access sanitary products. Last month, England launched a similar program making tampons and pads free at state schools and colleges. In the U.S., several states have moved to outlaw taxes on menstrual products.