This week, Scotland became the first nation in the world to guarantee free sanitary products to all students at schools, colleges, and universities. It’s part of a £5.2 million ($6.7 million) government plan to fight “period poverty”—the problems faced by women who struggle to cover their basic needs while menstruating.
That Scotland has taken the initiative to do so, particularly in light of a recent survey that showed one in five Scottish women has trouble affording sanitary menstruation products, is commendable. That it’s the first government to take this sort of action is, frankly, appalling.
“In a country as rich as Scotland it’s unacceptable that anyone should struggle to buy basic sanitary products,” said Scotland’s communities secretary Aileen Campbell, according to the Guardian. Which raises the question: What on earth is wrong with the rest of us?
The unfortunate answer can only be sexism, and by extension, squeamishness.
Let’s be real. If society has managed to accept the fact that everyone poops—and accordingly provide free toilet paper in schools, workplaces, public toilets, and even prisons—we should be able to publicly acknowledge that at any given time, roughly 300 million women are menstruating. Pads and tampons aren’t optional products; they’re a basic necessity.
There is some progress on that front. In 2016, shortly after New York state eliminated the tax on feminine hygiene products (as officials in the UK and Australia had also voted to do), the New York City council voted unanimously to distribute free tampons and sanitary pads in the city’s schools, shelters, and jails, as Quartz’s Annalisa Merelli reported. More evolved private workplaces also provide free sanitary products to employees the way they might say, seltzer or coffee. (In 2015, I publicly commended my employer for exactly this behavior.)
It’s difficult to imagine a workplace charging a bleeding employee for a Band-Aid, or installing a box around toilet paper charging for its use. And yet, just yesterday I found myself at at the Los Angeles headquarters of a global firm recently named one of the “Most Innovative Companies” of 2018. In the women’s bathroom, a machine proffered tampons and pads—for 25 cents a piece.
Menstruating women in need shouldn’t feel shame. The decision-makers who fail to take care of them should.