Tampons and other sanitary products should be given free to women receiving working age benefits, the Trussell Trust charity has said as the Scottish parliament held its first debate on “period poverty”.
Ewan Gurr, the Scotland development officer for the trust, called on the SNP government to consider making feminine hygiene products available free to women in receipt of certain targeted benefits.
Monica Lennon, Scottish Labour’s inequalities spokesperson, who tabled the motion with cross-party support, has championed the issue of menstrual inequality since her election last May as the MSP for Central Scotland.
On Tuesday evening she called for a “firm commitment” from the Scottish government to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the accessibility and affordability of feminine hygiene products.
Lennon had earlier questioned the public health minister, Aileen Campbell, in the chamber, who agreed to meet charities to “explore options” to help women and girls who struggled to pay for vital feminine hygiene products.
“It is an uncomfortable truth that not every woman and girl in Scotland can afford to buy essential feminine hygiene products when they need them,” Lennon told the chamber, detailing evidence from Barnardo’s Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and the Trussell Trust, as well as from private conversations with volunteers at foodbanks, churches and teachers across her constituency.
“What use is a free prescription for period pain relief, if low pay and insecure zero-hours contracts are forcing menstruating women to stuff their pants with toilet paper? What difference will the ‘attainment challenge’ make if you are a girl sitting in class with the embarrassment of a saturated sanitary towel between your legs?
“Should we really say ‘try a foodbank’ to a mother and her daughters fleeing domestic violence, when there is no guarantee whatsoever that the donations pile will include the tampons and towels they urgently need?”
Gurr told the Guardian that Trussell Trust foodbanks tried to stock such products as a basic necessity, but he had heard shocking anecdotal evidence of women having to use newspapers, socks and toilet rolls instead. “Purely on health grounds, this is a serious issue, but we should also be viewing it as a dignity issue.”
The Scottish government is currently consulting on the devolution of a range of welfare powers, which will give them the opportunity to top up existing payments or create new ones. Gurr said the provision of free sanitary products to women on certain benefits should be seriously considered by ministers.
According to research for the trust conducted earlier this year, 1.2 million people across the UK are going without essential toiletries, including tampons and towels.
In her speech, Lennon also referred to the growing menstrual equity movement around the world. New York City Council recently voted 49-0 to approve a measure to give women and girls in schools, prisons and homeless shelters access to feminine hygiene products, free of charge.
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