Closing The Gap

Scotland just became the first country in the world to make sanitary products free for all students 

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Around the world, lack of access to sanitary products frequently stops students from going to class. Some students miss days of school, and others drop out completely. One UNESCO report estimates that one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa miss 20 percent of the school year because of their period.

Research from children's charity Plan International shows that 45 percent of girls in Scotland have had to use alternatives such as toilet paper, socks and newspaper during their periods because they could not afford to buy sanitary products. One survey from grassroots group Women for Independence found that one in five women in Scotland have experienced "period poverty" — a phenomenon in which people struggle to pay for basic sanitary products on a monthly basis, resulting in a negative impact on their hygiene, health and well-being.

In order to address these issues and "banish the scourge of period poverty," the Scottish government approved a £5.2 million ($6.7 million) initiative that will make sanitary products free at all schools, colleges and universities — making Scotland the first country in the world to do so, according to The Guardian.

"In a country as rich as Scotland, it's unacceptable that anyone should struggle to buy basic sanitary products. I am proud that Scotland is taking this world-leading action to fight period poverty," said Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell in a statement released Friday. "Our £5.2 million investment will mean these essential products will be available to those who need them in a sensitive and dignified way, which will make it easier for students to fully focus on their studies."

First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon and Deputy First Minister John Swinney (centre right), with (left to right, back row) Mike Russell, Roseanna Cunningham, Derek Mackay, Michael Matheson, Fiona Hyslop, Fergus Ewing, (left to right, centre row) Jeane Freeman, Humza Yousaf, Shirley-Anne Somerville and Aileen Campbell during a photocall at Bute House in Edinburgh, following a Scottish cabinet reshuffle.
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According to Councillor Alison Evison, President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the program will have the additional benefit of decreasing the stigma surrounding periods.

"While the primary aim is to ensure no young person misses out on their education through lack of access to sanitary products, it will also contribute to a more open conversation and reducing the unnecessary stigma associated with periods," she said in the aforementioned statement.

Susannah Lane, Head of Public Affairs at Universities Scotland, agreed that this stigma causes undue emotional and economic burden on Scotland's students. "It is unacceptable that anyone should suffer the embarrassment and distress caused by period poverty so we welcome free sanitary provision being made available in universities across Scotland," she explained. "Periods are a part of life but they shouldn't be a point of inequality, compromise someone's quality of life or be a distraction from making the very most of time spent at university, so this is a positive step."

The United States, on the other hand, has a long way to go when it comes to increasing access to menstrual products. As Harper's Bazaar points out, roughly 42 million women live in or close to poverty in the United States, however, programs aimed at helping low-income families such as Medicaid, SNAP and WIC exclude menstrual products. According to NPR, menstrual products are actively taxed in all but nine states.

However, this year, seven states proposed new legislation banning the "tampon tax," and New York City approved free sanitary product initiatives in schools, shelters and jails in 2016.

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