Period Poverty

Together member: Scottish Youth Parliament

UNCRC Article 24 (right to the highest attainable standard of health)  

Every child has the right to the best possible health. Governments must provide good quality health care, clean water, nutritious food, and a clean environment and education on health and well-being so that children can stay healthy.

“I call on the Scottish Government to ensure the rights of young people who menstruate are properly protected by binding, not guiding, legislation.”

Chloe Carmichael MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018)

“When I was young and menstruating, I struggled to afford sanitary products. … The worst experience was if I started menstruating at school, had no products, and not enough money to purchase from the vending machine. Can you imagine how it felt to have an improvised pad out of toilet paper? The worry that it might leak? The discomfort? And then the stress of getting the money to buy products – when you are only 12 and already horrified by the whole damn thing? … It should not happen anymore. There is no excuse.”

(A young respondent to a period poverty consultation by Monica Lennon MSP)

‘Period poverty’ is when those who menstruate struggle to pay for basic sanitary products, having a significant impact on their hygiene, health and wellbeing. Taboos around discussing menstruation mean that it’s often overlooked, particularly in relation to children and young people.

As well as the impact on their health, period poverty can affect children and young people’s right to education. For example, a truancy officer investigating high levels of regular absences from school in Leeds discovered that many were due to pupils skipping school because they could not afford proper sanitary protection and were too embarrassed to attend school. Some were missing a week of education every month as a result of period poverty. Research from Plan International UK reveals that one in seven girls has struggled to afford sanitary wear and more than one in ten girls has had to improvise sanitary wear.

Access to sanitary products is vital to achieving basic dignity and impacts on the extent to which other rights are realised. It particularly affects the right to the highest attainable standard of health (Article 24), the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 27) and the right to education (Article 28).  The implications of period poverty on personal health, wellbeing and even fertility can be serious. Using improper and unclean materials risks urinary tract infections, bacterial infections which can cause fertility problems if not resolved as well as toxic shock syndrome which can result in death if not promptly treated.

The issue of period poverty has become increasingly prominent in public and political discussions in recent years. In Scotland, it was brought into the political spotlight by Monica Lennon MSP in 2017 when she put forward a Private Member’s Bill aimed at eradicating period poverty. This bill enshrines a statutory duty on schools, colleges and universities in Scotland to provide free sanitary products and was officially lodged in the Scottish Parliament in April 2019. In August 2018, Scottish Government dedicated £5.2 million to ensure that every student in school, college and university in Scotland will have access to free sanitary products.

Scotland is seen as leading the way in taking steps to tackle period poverty. Incorporation would ensure that the recent progress made is built on and developed in coming years. It would ensure that a focus on the impact of period poverty on children and young people is not a short-term political priority but is embedded into legislation, policy and practice in the long term. As a result, with increased knowledge of period poverty and better education about menstruation, there is likely to be a reduction in stigma and more inclusive and understanding culture for those who menstruate.

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