Until very recently, it would not have crossed my mind to discuss a woman’s period with friends and family.
As someone who has not experienced period pain, or had to go to the pharmacy or shops to get a supply of sanitary products it is an issue that I’ve never had the need to discuss.
However in a professional capacity as a journalist, I have been reporting on the issue of period poverty and particularly on Monica Lennon’s campaign to end it for the last 18 months.
It was not until I started covering the issue from a journalistic point of view that I found that for most women and girls having a period is very much a part of their lives and that access to sanitary products is a fundamental human right.
As I was researching the issue of period poverty, I found it shocking that many women and girls could not afford to buy a packet of tampons when they are going through their period.
A recent report from Plan International UK found that two in five girls in Scotland have been forced to be using toilet roll to manage their period because they cannot afford to buy sanitary products. 
The study also revealed that 45 per cent of girls living in Scotland have had to use alternative means for sanitary products, like newspapers and toilet rolls because they are struggling to buy tampons.
The survey also showed that just over a quarter of women and girls in Scotland have used the same sanitary product longer than they should have because they could not afford to purchase an adequate supply to accommodate their needs.
As Monica Lennon told the CommonSpace, there could be health risks for those women and girls who do not change their sanitary products on a regular basis. 
Even though it is rare, toxic shock syndrome is one of conditions that is associated with the extended use of products.
Due to this, I back Monica Lennon’s campaign to make Scotland the first country in the world to have free universal access to sanitary products.
With the UK still in austerity following the financial crash in 2008, they are some women and young girls who will have to choose between buying food or buy a packet of tampons when they are menstruating, and they may be putting their health at risk.
Currently for those young women and girls who are in need of an emergency supply of sanitary products they would have an option to turn to a food bank for help.
However, for some women, they would go without during their period due to the shame and embarrassment of having to ask for a packet of sanitary products.
Condoms can be accessed discreetly and at no cost from a registered dispenser via the C-Card system.
A similar scheme will need to be put in place for women to allow them to get their supply of sanitary products without feeling ashamed or embarrassed in doing so.
By introducing such a scheme, this would mean that there would be universal access to free sanitary that would help to bring an end to period poverty.
If no scheme is introduced, I would also be worried for Scotland’s future if nothing has changed for those women and young girls who continue to struggle through their period.
As Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs last May: for many women and girls sanitary products during menstruation is “not a luxury but a necessity”.
 Because I am a Girl – Plan International UK - https://plan-uk.org/file/plan-uk-break-the-barriers-report-032018pdf/download?token=Fs-HYP3v
 Labour MSP: Period poverty could put women's lives at risk- CommonSpace -https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/10052/labour-msp-period-poverty-could-put-womens-lives-risk
 Sturgeon: Sanitary products during menstruation are not a luxury but a necessity – CommonSpace - https://www.commonspace.scot/articles/10911/sturgeon-sanitary-products-during-menstruation-are-not-luxury-necessity
Improving the match day experience for women - Erin Slaven, Campaigning for free sanitary products at Celtic Park
It is no secret that the debate around period poverty is more prominent than ever before. I have admired the work done by Labour’s Monica Lennon MSP on tackling period poverty from afar, and it’s been great to see college’s, universities and other public spaces providing sanitary items for free. A pilot scheme has been introduced in my university for sanitary product provision and I was chuffed to bits when I seen it. “We’re making progress – yass!”
But the fight is not over! I am a season ticket holder for Celtic Football Club, and with my universities moves towards accessible sanitary products in mind, it got me thinking about why a similar scheme couldn’t be introduced in football grounds – or any sporting venues for that matter! However, focusing on football, its no secret that it has historically been a male-dominated sport. Whilst the number of women attending football fixtures has most definitely increased, we’re still the in the minority. It is important that we are visible and our needs are recognised. I shared a poll on Twitter asking about people’s experiences with accessibility to sanitary products at football grounds and a common answer was that they “couldn’t remember” if there was a sanitary items dispenser in the toilets that they used. This isn’t good enough. Women should leave sporting events knowing that their needs were well catered for, and I think this is something that access to free sanitary items would provide. The principle of being recognised and paid attention to is important – in addition to removing the financial obstacles to buying sanitary items.
It cannot be ignored that at the heart of this move is the knowledge that, as the price of sanitary products increase, not all self-identifying women and girls can afford them. It would be ignorant to assume that everyone can afford a sanitary towel or a tampon, especially when you’re using multiple a day for generally up to a week. We can’t have people compromising their health and hygiene by going without sanitary items because they can’t afford them whilst others can. So, yes, of course this is about making sure the products are easily accessible for everyone, but it’s not the sole aim of our campaign. A few other female season ticket holders and myself have put this campaign in place to promote women’s presence at the football, to make our needs visible and our voices heard. We also know in practice that sanitary hygiene in football grounds is harder than it may seem. We have heard from girls who said there was not a sanitary items dispenser in the toilet closest to them, or that there’s no access to sanitary bins. We hope that through this campaign and opening communications with the Club that we may be able to introduce a system where sanitary items are free to access and the comfort of the matchday experience can be optimised for female support.
This problem is not just specific to Celtic, to football, or to sport. It’s nation-wide and its roots can be found in the unequal gender balance upon which our society is built. Social attitudes mean that we are encouraged not to speak about menstruation or sanitary items, hence why little progress has been made in sanitary provision for women and girls. We believe that these products are just as necessary as toilet roll, which we don’t have to pay for. We want to break the stigma of talking about women’s reproductive health in public and we hope that through our campaign we will no longer see women and girls struggling to access sanitary products - we want a more comfortable match day experience for all who menstruate.
Ending indignity, promoting equality: Why Scotland’s largest teaching union backs the campaign to end period poverty. Blog post by Nicola Fisher, EIS President
The EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, has a long-standing interest in highlighting the damaging impact of low-income poverty on education. Last year we held special screenings of Kev Loach’s powerful film ’I, Daniel Blake’, to help our members become more aware of the changes to the social security system which are driving many into poverty and despair.
One scene which profoundly moved our members showed Katie, a struggling single mum, experiencing deep shame after being caught shoplifting sanitary products. Those working in food banks are increasingly encountering women and girls who are suffering the indignity of being unable to afford to buy sanitary products when experiencing their period. The Project Manager of one food bank in Nottingham says, “It’s quite something when you give somebody a box of tampons and they break down in tears” . A spokesperson for the leading food bank network in Scotland, interviewed in July 2017, said, “We've taken evidence across the country of women who supplement that [period products] by the use of socks, they would use toilet paper and in some of the worst circumstances…by the use of newspaper."
Women and girls deserve so much better than this. That’s why the EIS strongly supports Monica Lennon’s proposal to bring forward a Bill to end period poverty and oblige schools, colleges and universities to distribute items as needed, free of charge.
We believe that free and easy access to period products is fundamental to the health and wellbeing of women and girls. We know that health and wellbeing (one of the three pillars of the Curriculum for Excellence) impact on educational outcomes. We also believe that universal free provision of period products will enhance learners’ attendance and attainment.
It is common sense to suggest that girls are more likely to attend school/college, and be able to focus on their learning, if they know they can manage their period without stress or shame. However, this is also an evidence-based position. Research commissioned by ActionAid in 2016 found that more than 3.5 million girls and women in the UK had missed school or work because of their period.
A universal provision scheme as proposed by Ms. Lennon would also help to mitigate the impact of poverty on education, and should form part of the overall approach to ensuring ‘equity’ in educational provision, a stated Scottish Government priority.
Furthermore, it would promote equality - in line with the Public Sector Equality Duty. And, crucially, it would contribute to tackling the stigma associated with periods. Periods are not a medical emergency or a secret shame – they are a normal and natural part of life for women and girls. They deserve to be part of public policy in the same way as any other health issue.
In the EIS, we know only too well that the current climate of austerity, with one in five children in Scotland living in poverty, is damaging to our learners. We know children and young people are coming to school hungry and cold. We know families are choosing between eating and heating. We know that women and girls are stressed and distressed if they have no money to buy period products and are too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for an emergency supply. It is disgraceful that, in this day and age, many women and girls struggle to access basic sanitary products, which can have a significant impact on their health and wellbeing. This is a matter of basic human dignity, to which we should all be entitled, regardless of income. It’s time to end period poverty for good.
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