Three years ago today, the Scottish Parliament passed the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.
Thank you to all the campaigners and organisations from all over the world that made this world-leading legislation possible. I am eternally grateful.
“We must challenge period stigma”: My thoughts Ahead of Global Menstrual Health Day (Monica Lennon MSP)
This year, I marked Global Period Day by delivering a keynote speech at a menstrual justice salon, organised by Professor Marcy L. Karin.
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act which came into legal effect in 2021 ensures that free products are available to anyone who needs them, including schools, colleges, and universities.
There is so much to celebrate for Scotland when it comes to menstrual justice- I continue to be inspired by the dedicated campaigners and activists who made the Period Product Act a reality and continue to fight for equal opportunities for those who menstruate.
In 2016 when I was first elected and began asking the Scottish Government questions about period product affordability and now other world leaders are using us as a framework. The Period Products Act means that nobody has to be held back in life simply because they menstruate. Period products are a necessity and must be free and accessible for all if we are to have a fair society.
But we must challenge the stigma that continues to surround menstruation if we want to make a real impact. This begins with talking about periods in the classroom, around the dinner table, and in the pub.
Scotland is the first country in the world to provide free products, and this should be celebrated. It is now time to continue the fight for menstrual justice by ensuring that young people see menstruation as a normal fact of life and not something embarrassing or shameful.
After a busy week in Parliament, it was uplifting to spend time with so many like-minded individuals and to hear about the ongoing work being done globally to achieve period equity.
This weekend, I had the privilege of delivering a talk in the famous Cambridge University Debating Chamber to share my experience of introducing the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act.
It was my pleasure to share this bucket-list moment with Cambridge Union members, many of whom are also avid period poverty campaigners. The panel was a great chance to shine a light on the world-leading work that Scotland has undertaken in moving closer to achieving gender equality and I am always incredibly proud of the progress that period dignity campaigners from across the UK are achieving.
Just a few days ahead of International Women’s Day, it was heart-warming to be sat on a panel with so many inspiring women who are fully committed to eradicating period poverty.
I would like to thank the student representatives at Cambridge Union for kindly inviting and accommodating me and allowing me to share my insights. It is a memory I will forever cherish.
Crown Her is an Non-governmental Organisation dedicated to the legislative change for the provision of at least one free menstrual product for all women of reproductive age in Trinidad and Tobago.
We have been working closely with other NGOs including the Supermarket Association of Trinidad and Tobago, The Rotary Clubs of District 7030, the Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association and the various Business Chambers as well as the Attorney General’s office and the Ministry of Health in Trinidad and Tobago.
Our academic study on 'Assessing Period Poverty in Trinidad and Tobago' was recently published in the International Journal of Medical Science and Discovery. The findings show that 76% of the sample of 504 women (18-48 years) did not believe that period products are affordable and that 51% reported that they struggled to obtain period products. Furthermore, 55% indicated that they had to borrow or change their current brand of period product and 51% revealed that they had to improvise or use alternative products such as toilet paper, napkins, and paper towels. The vast majority of the women also reported that their workplace and schools did not provide them with sanitary products and 99% believe that they should provide them with these products.
Although all menstrual products in our country are tax exempted, period poverty still exists which was made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. Any support to our cause will be greatly appreciated.
Link to full study: https://medscidiscovery.com/index.php/msd/article/view/861
Links to Crown Her's Facebook: Crown Her Trinidad and Tobago | Facebook
Sanitree is a social enterprise looking to tackle period poverty and the social stigma surrounding menstruation in a sustainable, collaborative and ethical way.
There is a massive wealth and geographical divide in terms of using safe and hygienic sanitary products; a basic human right which should be afforded to all menstruating people equally. We envision menstruation becoming an experience that is both empowering for all, and kind to the planet.
Our social enterprise works in two locations, Jaipur and Edinburgh. Jaipur is home to our Her Shakti Centre, where a team of 7 local women are employed to produce our reusable cloth pads. The Her Sakti Centre was founded by our director Ishu from the Jeevan Arth Foundation, and it is more than just a workspace; holding weekly self-defence, yoga and English language classes run by locals. Our beneficiaries can therefore empower themselves and their community in a space that is dedicated to their ventures. The centre is the beating heart of our enterprise, and it is where we aim to break down menstruation taboos through education and awareness training.
Edinburgh is our UK base, where the 18 members of the student-led Sanitree team from 3 different countries attend university together. It is here that we organise most of our fundraising to support the production and activities in the Her Shakti Centre. We host events for the student community throughout the year to raise funds and awareness of the project, as well as working with political and community stakeholders, organising campaigns raising awareness of period stigma. We are currently breaking into the UK market with our pads to further subsidise the cost of our pads in Jaipur and help to fund other Jaipur ventures.
Through both locations, Jaipur and Edinburgh, Sanitree is committed to helping solve the issue of period poverty. Studies show that 64% of women in India don’t use period products, but unhygienic alternatives instead, such as old rags and socks. There have even been reports of the use of rice husk ash, a type of agricultural waste. Inadequate education is one of the most pervasive factors perpetuating period poverty in India today: 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until they experience it themselves. Education is a vital tool for stimulating public conversations about periods; when menstruators cannot learn about their reproductive health, it pushes the conversation into a place of shame, reinforcing a culture created by the patriarchal view that periods are dirty and polluting. This culture ultimately affects people of all genders, as it stigmatises the vital biological process which is the origin of all life.
Period poverty is a crucial issue to solve, having detrimental long-term effects. For the 87 million women and girls in India who live in poverty, using unhygienic methods of period care is often the only option, a practice which forces 23 million girls to drop out of school every year. Devastatingly, this is most likely to occur at the average age of the onset of puberty. Without education, girls are twice as likely to marry during childhood and face life-threatening risks from early pregnancy. Furthermore, they are less likely to have access to opportunities which will help them break the cycle of poverty, and challenge the cultures and institutions that taught them to feel shame about their bodies.
We take a holistic approach to the issue, considering the full health, social, economic, and political landscape that affects access to menstrual health education and period products. Our innovative solution to this problem is rooted in our handmade, reusable and biodegradable period pad, made from one layer of organic brushed cotton, 4 layers of ultra-absorbent organic cotton and one waterproof Polyurethane (PUL) layer. Our pads are manufactured by women from vulnerable backgrounds and provide a creative solution to period poverty and advocacy for a healthier planet while economically empowering local communities.
All our materials are environmentally and economically sustainable, locally sourced from independent suppliers who share our vision and values. Organic cotton is estimated to be grown using around 91% less water than non-organic cotton. It is also chemical free which means it is not harmful when it biodegrades, a process taking only 5 months, so it can efficiently return its nutrients back into the soil. PUL is a heat-bonded laminate with polyester fabric, ensuring the pad’s leak-proof credentials and extending its durability. It is also low in toxicity, allowing it to biodegrade safely. On its current trajectory, the fashion industry will use up ¼ of the world's carbon budget by 2050 and, globally, less than 1% of clothes are recycled. To address this, the Sanitree pad pouches are made from textile offcuts (160kg to date) from local factories which otherwise would go to waste.
Whilst we sell our pads to conscious consumers, our focus is centred on donation drives supported by local partner NGOs in India, which have been running regularly since the centre opened in 2019. There is a significant stigma surrounding menstrual cups and tampons across the country, and therefore pads enable greater cultural sensitivity and accessibility. They also provide a much more economical way for charities to make a longer-lasting impact without undermining climate justice. This is essential as the Global South is already experiencing some of the most devastating effects of the climate crisis.
We distribute our pads to menstruators in schools, workplaces and communities alongside educational sessions, that both illustrate how to use and clean the pads as well as breaking down some of the pervasive period stigmas. Our aim is to create conversations about menstruation, by sharing experiences in a safe environment, cultivating trust and understanding. We lead sessions with both boys and girls together as we feel this approach tackles the shame and stigma at the root. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback, for example with Chankhasi School in Malawi where most of the 30 girls' attendance rates increased and their confidence in the school environment excelled. We believe this intersectional approach is the only way to ensure long-term period dignity.
Sanitree’s future is bright. We have just celebrated our 5th birthday and are already planning ahead for the next 5 years; continuing to run our educational sessions, as well as working towards becoming a vendor for the UN where our period dignity kits would be sent to refugee camps all over the world. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we can even supply our kits to the Scottish government! There are exciting things in store for Sanitree.
Written by Erin Stratton and Lula Ashdown
This month, a new report has been published by Days for Girls International and New Perimeter highlighting the scope of menstrual health across 12 countries. The report analyses various laws and policies that impact menstrual health within education.
Here is a excerpt from Scotland's review, which Monica Lennon was delighted to contribute to:
"Recognized as a country within the United Kingdom’s territories, Scotland became the first country to pass legislation in November 2020 that would provide period products for free in public places. Members of the Scottish Parliament unanimously approved the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act 2021 (hereinafter, the “Act”), mandating that local authorities provide tampons and pads to “anyone who needs to use them” in public places. Legal duties were not attached to the Act, however, until August 15, 2022, when the law enshrined that councils and education providers would be legally required to make period products available free of charge, enabling access in community centers, pharmacies, youth clubs and other public places."
You can read the report here: Advancing-Menstrual-Health-Education-and-Economic-Progress.pdf (newperimeter.com)
What role can sustainable period products play in tackling period poverty?
Scotland’s game changing Free Period Products bill is a major step towards eradicating period poverty in Scotland. Should our next goal be planet-friendly periods for all?
Periods and the environment
Each of us uses around 11,000 disposable periods products in our menstruating life. As you can imagine, this number comes with a huge environmental impact.
Disposable tampons and pads are the most commonly used period products and are known to contain up to 90% plastic. According to a UN-sponsored report, 49 billion single-use period products are used every year in the EU alone. Most of them end up in landfill, or worse: in our oceans and waterways. Despite increasing awareness of the impact of disposables, 1.5 billion period products are still flushed down the toilet in the UK every year.
The toxic trio of period poverty
Period poverty is caused by a ‘toxic trio’: the cost of products, a lack of period education, and stigma around periods. Providing free period products to those in need is an important step towards period dignity for all. But we can’t ignore the other two culprits.
We need to talk about periods
Decades of misinformation and period shaming (even by some period product brands!) mean that menstruation is still considered taboo by many. As a pioneering ethical period brand, smashing that taboo has been a major objective for us. When we first started in 2002, people just weren't publicly talking about periods. We wanted to support people in making informed decisions about the products they were using. And in order to evaluate choices and habits, that silence around periods needed to change.
We are so proud that our work has brought sustainable menstrual products to the mainstream, but let’s not kid ourselves, the period taboo lives on. Free period products have been fairly widely available in many places, such as schools for years, but the unspoken nature of this very natural bodily function has stopped the information from reaching those in need.
We need stigma-free period education
If we believe in a culture and environment that supports girls, women and people with periods, we need frank and stigma-busting menstrual health education. Research has shown that young people feel the education they receive focuses too much on just the biological elements of menstruation. Anyone with periods knows that menstruation involves so much more than knowing your ‘follicular’ from your ‘luteinising phase’!
Young people want to learn about the embodied experience of periods, like cramps and hormonal changes, as well as how to deal with them. The best way to debunk these taboos is to encourage an open dialogue and unashamedly talk about these topics. Period education should include discussion about our society’s and media’s attitude towards periods too.
Having seen a gap in current education resources available for educators, we recently launched a free Period Education pack for primary and secondary school teachers in the UK. It’s been developed by Mooncup together with menstrual and sexual health experts. The pack is designed to be a curriculum-related, inclusive, and stigma-busting resource, and it includes many opportunities for discussion about our society’s attitude towards periods.
Sometimes reusable period products are not the answer
Mooncup® supporters often reach out to us as they are keen to explore whether Mooncup could be an answer to period poverty. It is after all a sustainable, long-term solution, removing the need for monthly purchases.
So, while the Mooncup can often be a great solution, as an ethical business, it is important that we can be sure that the Mooncup is being introduced in an environment where it is genuinely wanted and helpful. Understanding the circumstances of the user is key. There are practical points to consider, like access to usage support, clean water for washing hands, and cleaning the Mooncup. We also need to respect people’s preferences for internal or external products.
Sometimes other basic needs simply come first and trying something new is the last thing someone in a state of crisis might wish to do. The points mentioned can also be valid for other reusable period products, such as period pants and reusable pads: they need washing facilities, a place for drying, and a change in a long-term habit.
Reusable period products as a solution for period poverty
We know period poverty doesn’t only touch on people in crisis. With the cost of living crisis intensifying, one in eight Britons says they are going to struggle to afford period products over the next year. In many cases the benefits of the reusables, especially menstrual cups like the Mooncup, are clear. You only need one Mooncup, which can last years and years. There’s no need to stockpile different absorbency pads or tampons and with no monthly repeat purchase, a lot of money is saved.
When reusables, like the Mooncup® menstrual cup, are an appropriate solution, it is also important for the people using them to have access to good support and advice about usage. At Mooncup, we offer a unique Advice Service to all our customers. All our Mooncup Advisors are medically trained nurses or midwives, and they are happy to help with any Mooncup-related questions.
While disposable period products may seem like a cheaper option to offer to those in need, in the long run, they will incur a higher cost to the provider - not to mention our planet. Reusable period products should be a standard option in all period poverty schemes. Our work with many UK and international charities shows that providing reusables, like the Mooncup, can be a real gamechanger and a step closer to a world with a better, shame-free, and dignified period experience for all.
Lena Koskela for Mooncup Ltd
Speak Out champions are a group of girls and young women who make up Girlguiding Scotland’s youth panel. They act as spokespeople for the organisation and share their views on issues that matter to them and other girls across the country.
They’ve always been passionate about ending period poverty for good and have supported Monica Lennon MSP over the years in her quest to make this a reality. Check out this blog by Speak Out champion Eloise and find out more about what part they played!
Making sure there’s access to free period products is one of the most important moves the Scottish government has made. By getting rid of the idea that period products are something of a luxury so many more individuals have been able to get access to the resources they need like pads, tampons etc. It especially helps those who might get their period for the first time without warning somewhere like school. This helps improve overall school attendance as those who may have experienced embarrassment or found themselves unable to attend school due to lack of access of period products, will now no longer have to face this issue.
The impact the Free Period Products (Scotland) Act has had on those experiencing period poverty is tremendous. Our Girlguiding Scotland Girls in Scotland Survey found that 25% of girls had experienced period poverty or knew someone who had, with 13% of girls as young as 13-25 having experienced period poverty themselves. By making free products available we have taken one further step towards equity in both the financial world and healthcare world, as well as opening the door of opportunity to those who may have once felt held back by their period.
As a member of Girlguiding Scotland and a Speak Out Champion I’m aware of how much hard work from our passionate members went into supporting and fighting for this bill to pass. Between speaking on behalf of our members and girls at the Scottish Parliament, conducting surveys, creating a campaign to raise awareness within units and even helping girls take part in supporting women’s shelters to provide products, we as an organisation fully support the Act and can already feel the positive affect that it is having.
By Eloise, Girlguiding Scotland Speak Out Champion
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