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By: Yeeun Lee

Around 500 million women and girls suffer from period poverty each month, severely affecting their quality of life, and physical and mental health. The American Medical Women’s Association defines period poverty as not having access to adequate menstrual hygiene tools, which includes sanitary products, facilities, and waste management. Yet female hygiene products remain taxed in most parts of the world and one of the most highly taxed products in some parts of the world. However, in Scotland, female hygiene products will soon be free to all who need them.

On April 23, 2019, a bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament that proposed free period products for all who need them in Scotland. After some amendments, the bill was passed in 2020 with all votes in favor, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free sanitary products and to end period poverty. According to Plan International UK, a girls rights charity, about 10% of girls in Britain cannot afford period products and almost 20% have reported the need to use substitutes such as rags and newspapers due to the high cost of menstruation products. Beyond that, the lack of access to menstruation products also causes women to miss work and school. “A decade of austerity has pushed many women into a desperate financial situation . . . many have been forced to use makeshift items, shoplift or simply go without these basic necessities” said Mandu Reid, the leader of the British Women’s Equality Party.

However, it is unsurprising that Scotland is the first country to pass such a bill. More than half of the Scottish cabinet is made up of women and Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, made period products free in all schools since 2018. In addition, in 2018, three female fans of the Celtic soccer team began a campaign to provide free female hygiene products in the team’s stadium in Glasgow. The campaign worked and three weeks later, free female hygiene products were available not only in Celtic Park but in more soccer clubs around the U.K. 

Nevertheless, there are still some hurdles that must be overcome before the bill can become a law. Cost is one of the main obstacles, as it is estimated that providing free sanitary products would cost the Scottish government around $31 million every year. The obstacles were deemed “surmountable” and the Scottish Parliament’s commitment towards providing free sanitary products throughout the country remains strong. 

Other countries around the world have also made efforts towards ending period poverty and increasing access to sanitary products. For instance, Germany decided that tampons will no longer be classified as luxury products, which lowered the tax on tampons from 19% to 7%. When products are labeled as luxury goods, such as wine and cigarettes, they are given the highest possible tax rate. While a tax rate of 7% might still seem high, it is definitely a step forward. France, Spain, and Portugal have taken similar steps and decreased their tax rates on tampons as well. Some other countries such as Ireland, Canda, India, and Kenya have a zero tax rate on all sanitary products. Nonetheless, other countries have gone the other direction. Greece increased its tax from 13% to 23% during its economic crisis and in Hungary, the tax on sanitary products is 27%. 

In the United States, the situation varies by state. Some states label tampons as luxury products while others — Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida — do not tax sanitary products at all. Items such as food and medicine are not taxed because they are considered to be necessities. Advocates have argued that excluding tampons from the list of necessities and instead marking them as luxury goods places an immense and unfair burden on women.

“By providing equal and affordable access to feminine hygiene products, state and federal governments would ‘address the social reality of inequality, specifically, the inequality of opportunities that [women] have to control [their] reproductive destiny’.” [1] 

Menstruation and the issue of access to sanitary products is a social justice issue, not a “women’s issue.” As Alison Johnstone, a member of the Scottish Parliament said, “being financially penalized for a natural bodily function is not equitable or just. Being unable to afford or access period products denies women access to education, work, sport and so much more.” One of the reasons why this issue is often characterized as a women’s only issue is because of the stigma around menstruation. As emphasized by the Scottish Parliament, an important aspect of this bill is that it is opening up a discussion about serious health issues without any sense of embarrassment. The dialogue between men and women in Scotland shows that period poverty and access to sanitary products is a societal issue. Regardless of sex and gender, people can and should talk about menstruation issues without discomfort. Actions aimed towards ending period poverty also help battle the stigma surrounding menstruation and vice versa, having open talks about menstruation helps raise awareness of period poverty. 

Around the world, women are still penalized for something they cannot control — a completely natural bodily function. There are several women who cannot afford female hygiene products. And even among those who can, paying for female hygiene products places an immense financial burden on them. By passing a bill that provides free access to female hygiene products to all who need them, Scotland is standing at the forefront of a global movement to end period poverty and de-stigmatize menstruation. 

[1] Durkin, A. (2017). Profitable menstruation: How the cost of feminine hygiene products is battle against reproductive justice. Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law,

18(1), 131-172.