I've got an admission to make. I’ve never had a period. I've never experienced period pains nor have I ever faced the emergency of having no sanitary products when all of sudden I need them.
I don't think I need to explain why I've never had a period but the reason I am writing a blog about an issue that I have no lived experience of is because Monica Lennon's period poverty campaign led me to take action on the issue this summer.
When Monica started raising the issue in the Scottish Parliament, I had no idea of some of the shocking measures some women are going to because they can't afford sanitary products.
Sanitary products are a basic human need. Woman don't get to choose whether to have periods or not, nor do they get to choose what they have in their purse before it comes.
So why are women in this country going without sanitary products because they can't afford them?
Why are young girls at school stuffing their pants with toilet paper or skipping school altogether through the embarrassment of not being able to access proper sanitary protection?
After the Council elections in May our minority Labour administration asked Council officers to look at ways in which we could provide free sanitary products in all our secondary schools. By the time the schools returned for the new term in August we had installed vending machines in our secondary school toilets that provide tampons and pads free of charge. The scheme has been welcomed by pupils and regularly comes up in discussions as we visit secondary schools for our Joint Youth Cabinet meetings.
Since we launched our initiative other Councils have followed our lead and the First Minister has pledged to install a legal duty for free sanitary products to be available in all schools, colleges and universities. That's great but it’s not being rolled out until next August - we took our decision and launched it within weeks, there is no need to wait.
It’s also the case that the key to any obligation to provide sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities is how it is prescribed. For example, in some colleges and universities the Students Association or woman's groups already help with sanitary products but it is the students themselves who donate the items and then anyone wishing to access the provision needs to go, in person, and request help. Is that going to be enough to satisfy any obligation the Scottish Government may set? Does it treat woman with dignity and respect? For me, it doesn't. The implementation of any obligation is therefore crucially important.
We must also acknowledge that what we have done in North Ayrshire secondary schools, and what the Scottish Government are talking about doing with colleges and universities, does not end period poverty. Yes, it gives access to pupils and students and that is a positive step but what about their family? What about their neighbours who are also struggling? In North Ayrshire I would like to see our scheme rolled out into leisure facilities and other venues but more importantly I support Monica Lennon's call for a universal approach to sanitary provision across Scotland. That’s why I support the period poverty bill and have responded to the consultation. It is why I am asking you to support it too and make your voice heard by completing the consultation before the deadline on 8th December.