Monday, March 29, 2021

Period Products Made Free In Scotland


The Event

    In November of 2020, Scotland made history as the first nation in the world to make period products free for its population. This decision did not come out of nowhere: in 2017, Scotland rolled out a pilot program designed to last for six months which would send sanitary products to schools throughout the country in an effort to combat the phenomenon known as "period poverty." Period poverty is the term that is used when a person with low income is unable to afford the necessary sanitary period products that they need to allow them to healthily manage their period and continue to go about their normal life. 

    While some may not think that period poverty would be a widespread issue in a nation as advances as Scotland, they would be mistaken. In a survey conducted by Children's Charity Plan International in 2017, it was found that 10% of Britain's girls could not afford the necessary sanitary products for their periods. In addition, when Scotland's girls were asked if they had ever been unable to purchase period products or had difficulty in doing so, 58% said they had. This is wildly tragic, as Scotland itself has the economic capacity to alleviate this problem. The creator of the period bill, Monica Lennon, said "In a society as rich as Scotland, no one should have to suffer the indignity of not having the means to their basic needs."

    Lennon has been working on a solution to period poverty since 2016. In 2019, she introduced the Period Product Free Provisions Bill to the Scottish Parliament. After review, revision, and debate, the bill was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in November of 2020. 

The Concepts

    An important concept to grasp in order to understand the full impact of this new law is the third definition of power. This essentially is the idea that society creates an ideology that in itself is a manifestation of power, because this ideology is what we are raised in; the lens through which we see the world. Thus, through socialization, it shapes our interests and what we want. We will return to this. 

    Another important concept one needs to know to understand this bill is intersectionality. Intersectionality is a term that refers to the overlapping of identities, identities such as age, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or any identity one may have. At times, subsets of these identities are marginalized. When a person possesses more than one identity that is marginalized by society, that person can experience compounded discrimination due to their intersecting identities. Marked and unmarked categories are part of what makes this marginalization so pertinent. Essentially, within categories there is a social default which society and its functions are built around, such as male for gender, white for race, rich for class, etc. This makes it harder for those who do not fit the default to function in a society that does not help them, and those who fall into more than one of these unmarked categories through their identities often experience heightened marginalization and difficulties. 

The Implications

    Backtracking for a moment, due to this third definition of power, women all over the world feel the need to hide or discretely manage their periods. Engrained in those who menstruate is an idea that periods are something to be ashamed of, treated quietly, and are a subject of taboo, because that is what society has taught them. There are specific examples of this from Scotland. It is a point of psychological stress and at times danger to both their future and person. 

    In the best-case scenario, inability to access sanitary products can have an effect on whether or not girls can attend school, how women can perform in their work, and their general ability to go about life normally and effectively. In a worst-case scenario, the inability to manage a period and the taboo that surrounds that subject can be a threat to women and girls' lives. In some societies around the world, periods are viewed as impure, and women and girls are forced into harsh conditions for the duration of their periods. In Nepal, for example, when a person is menstruating, the family and community isolate that person and confine them to a cowshed or some other structure outside the home until the individual has completed their cycle. This exposes women and girls to harsh elements and dangerous wildlife that has often resulted in death. This is just one extreme example, but very relevant.

    Women have grown up in a society under this third idea of power: a society that has shaped their wants to be to quietly manage their periods. This prevents an open opportunity for conversation around menstruation, which is a completely natural, necessary, and important function of the human body and life itself. These attitudes have consequences when periods and their healthy management is not a part of mainstream conversation and thus does not appear on the policy agenda. This has allowed problems such as period poverty to remain an issue thus far and affect the ability of those who menstruate to live their lives to the fullest. That is why this new bill passed in Scotland is so important: it is changing the narrative and defies that power of ideology that menstruating persons have been subject to until now. Hopefully, this bill is the first of many that will begin to alter the narrative surrounding menstruating all over the world. 

    In addition, the bill is covertly addressing intersectional needs, particularly in the areas of age, disability, and gender identity. Because periods are more likely to affect those people of younger age, both because they have not experienced menopause and because they are more likely to not have their own income, the bill providing free period products will help prevent age discrimination. It will also ensure the security of the vital education of these young people, so they will not have to miss out on school. In addition to age, since those with disabilities are more likely to be living in poverty, the period products bill will help reduce inequality with regard to disability and will ensure equal human rights. The bill is also specifically not gendered or gender discriminatory, which means all people who menstruate, regardless of gender identity, will have access to the necessary free period products. Those experiencing an intersection of any or all of these identities will experience increased help from this bill.

    Overall, this bill was a very positive development and will hopefully set a standard for nations everywhere. 

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