Scotland Becomes First Nation to Provide Free Period Products — How Does Australia Compare?

In a world first, Scotland has become the first nation to provide free access to period products for its residents. The campaign has also significantly changed the discourse about menstruation in the country. The Period Products (Free Provision) Act was passed unanimously on Tuesday night in Scotland and according to The Guardian, local authorities now have a legal duty to make period products accessible for those who need them.

Labour’s health spokeswoman, Monica Lennon, who started the campaign four years ago, was unsurprisingly ecstatic at the news, telling The Guardian that it was “a proud day for Scotland”.

“This will make a massive difference to the lives of women and girls and everyone who menstruates,” Lennon said. “There has already been great progress at a community level and through local authorities in giving everyone the chance of period dignity.

“There has been a massive change in the way that periods are discussed in public life. A few years ago there had never been an open discussion of menstruation in the Holyrood chamber and now it is mainstream. MSPs have enjoyed being a part of that, and it has encompassed the menopause, endometriosis, as well as the types of products we use and their sustainability.”

Offering universal access to period products free of charge will have a hugely positive impact on people who menstruate — especially for those who experience period poverty. Period poverty is the term that describes when a person is unable to afford basic sanitary items to deal with their period. According to research undertaken by the grassroots group Women for Independence, nearly one in five women have experienced this.

So, how does Australia stack up compared to Scotland? Well, it’s not great. From a nationwide perspective, there isn’t a scheme that offers free period products to all Aussies. In fact, the only state in Australia that offers these products is Victoria but even that comes with a caveat.

In 2019, the Victorian Government announced it would be implementing a program in schools across the state that offered sanitary items to students. In July this year, the Government announced that the initiative had been implemented in more than 1,500 public schools.

While this is undoubtedly a good start, there is still much work to be done here in Australia — especially considering schools are shut for up to 15 weeks each year due to school holidays. So, while students in Victoria are able to access products during the term, they could be forced back into period poverty during holidays.

According to Rochelle Courtenay, founder and managing director of Share the Dignity, a charity that distributes period products across the country to those in need, it would create much-needed change if the Federal Government provided period products to those who need them and in turn, would allow charities like hers to use its donated funds to look after other areas of the community.

But, along with sanitary items, there also needs to be a change in the way we talk about mensuration in Australia. Much like the campaign in Scotland has changed this conversation there, we also need to remove the stigma and taboo nature of periods here.

“Unless we remove the shame and stigma, we’re still not going to have women asking for products when they need them,” Courtenay told The Latch. “So instead of asking they will leave a tampon in for two days or they will use wadded up toilet paper or socks to deal with their period.

“We need to remove the shame and stigma and provide better education around periods while also starting conversations that don’t involve kids at school putting their head down and thinking ‘Oh my god, how much longer until this is over?’ because they’re so ashamed about it.

“Then there’s obviously getting the product out to those who need it the most, who cannot afford the most basic of essentials.”

In order to move this forward, Courtenay recommends adding your voice to the conversation in order to highlight the prevalence of period poverty and the need for education. Talk to your friends about it and make this a topic that isn’t shameful. We still have a long way to go in Australia and we hold Scotland as a prime example of what we could achieve here.

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