On the 24 of November 2020, Scotland made history. In passing the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act, Scotland became the first country in the world to commit to providing free menstrual products to anyone who needs them. Whatever your financial situation, everyone who menstruates should have access to period products. But according to one Plan International survey, one in 10 girls can’t afford to buy them. Thankfully, Scotland is leading the way and bringing menstruation into the public conversation.
As well as revealing how many people can’t afford sanitary products in the UK, research from Plan International also brought light to ‘the toxic trio.’ In addition to ‘the cost of menstrual products’, the toxic trio encompasses ‘a lack of education about periods’ and ‘shame, stigma and taboo.’ For many, the stigma surrounding periods is still a huge hurdle and, despite free products being available, this stigma could stop the Period Products Act reaching its full potential.
It isn’t difficult to find period-related embarrassment and shame. In fact, just about anyone who menstruates is likely to have a story that will make their cheeks glow red as they recall it. These stories are often rooted in early life and school can become a particularly toxic place where period stigma is allowed to thrive. Sarah, 24, who attended school in Edinburgh, opened up about her memories of period shame in school; ‘I’d had my period for a while, but then someone found a tampon rolling around my desk. It wasn’t mine, it must have been there before, but everyone made such a big deal about it and it was so embarrassing. I just didn’t know what to do!’
Morven, 24, told a similar story, which involved everyone in her class finding out that she’d started her period, leading to her feeling ‘mortified’. She went on to say that, ‘there was so much shame where there shouldn’t have been shame. Like being too embarrassed to buy tampons in the supermarket in case someone saw me. I feel like everyone has that, but we shouldn’t.’ Morven certainly isn’t alone in this. In fact, 71% of young people said that they have felt embarrassed buying period products.
So, if these are the negative emotions many of us attach to menstruation, especially at a young age, how are young people going to feel about taking free menstrual products in public places? Thanks to the Period Products Act in Scotland, free products will be provided in public spaces such as libraries and receptions. With the stigma attached to menstruation, however, will people feel comfortable enough to actually take them?
Both financially and socially, period poverty is a difficult problem to overcome. However, we can all play a vital part in fighting the stigma that surrounds menstruation. The new act in Scotland has started a vital conversation, both throughout the UK and around the world. The traction that this fantastic news has gained allows us to feel optimistic about bringing down period shame once and for all.
So, what can we do to keep the conversation going and support people who are suffering due to period poverty?
Whether talking to our loved ones or to a wider audience on social media, it’s important that we keep the conversation around periods and period poverty going, to help defeat the stigma. When the Period Product Act passed on the 24 of November, it was amazing to see so many people raising their voices about the subject on social media, regardless of whether they themselves were affected by period poverty. Guitarist for Sam Fender, Joe Atkinson, for example, showed his support in an Instagram post with the caption: ‘Make it free everywhere in the world, no debate.’
Public figures like Joe are already playing a major part in battling the stigma and raising awareness about period poverty, but you don’t have to have a big online following to make a difference. Just talking about menstruation and refusing to shy away from the topic of period poverty can make more of an impact than you might realise. Are there any other solutions?
As well as having vital conversations about menstruation, there are also many charities and initiatives you can get involved with or donate to. For more information about period poverty, or to donate to a truly vital cause, head to Sanitree, Hey Girls, Bloody Good Period, ActionAid, or The Red Box Project here in Newcastle.
Scotland has undoubtedly taken a huge step forward. Hopefully, this step will mark a significant change in the way we approach period poverty across the UK. However, there is still much work to be done to bring down the overwhelming stigma attached to periods.
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