Social enterprise works to end menstrual poverty in Scotland

Edinburgh — For half of the world’s population, sanitary products are a necessity.

With costs reaching $11 per month, for many women these items have become a luxury.

But a social enterprise called Hey Girls is trying to change that by providing free sanitary products.

A new law passed earlier this year made Scotland the first country in the world to provide free tampons and sanitary napkins to anyone who needs them in a bid to end menstrual poverty. Hey Girls manufactures some of these products.

“We define period poverty as having to choose between a packet of period products and saying, something like a packet of pasta or another, you know, basic necessity, whether it’s energy or food,” Ailsa Colquhoun of Hey Girls told CBS News. Roxane Saberi. “And when people can afford menstrual products, obviously they tend to go for food and energy. So that means depriving yourself of what you need for your period.”

According to the World Bank, 500 million women and girls worldwide do not have access to menstrual products. In the United States, a 2019 study in St. Louis found that two-thirds of low-income women could not afford menstrual products. In Scotland, a quarter of girls in school, colleges and universities have experienced periods of poverty.

The consequences of menstrual poverty sometimes cause women to use unsafe or poor quality items during their menstrual cycle.

“They might not be able to leave their homes, and that means missing days of work,” Colquhoun said. “If they choose to go to the workplace or go for an interview, they will have to use something that does not meet the standards. Even things like bread.”

This led Scottish politician Monica Lennon to propose the legislation in 2019, despite the subject being uncomfortable for some.

“I think there were red faces,” Lennon said. “I think we felt uncomfortable, but I think it just goes to show that we need a culture shift where we normalize discussions about menstruation. It’s about changing the conversation.”

To support this effort, the Scottish Government has helped Hey Girls launch an app showing where to pick up the free products, with locations including pharmacies, schools, universities and public buildings.

In Glasgow, for example, women are directed to a public library to collect their period products.

Demand is doubling every month, according to Lauren Heany of a homeless charity called The Simon Community. Heany thinks such programs should be replicated in other countries.

“It’s not a difficult project to replicate,” she said. “It’s really simple, and the benefit it brings to people is really fantastic.”

In the United States, some cities and states have started distributing free menstrual products in public schools and colleges. South Africa, South Korea and New Zealand have started to take similar action.

“It’s about valuing and respecting women and girls,” Lennon said. “It’s a signal, and it sends the message that periods are normal.”

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