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In a world first, Scotland offers tampons and pads for free

From this week, period products will be available free in public spaces such as community centers, pharmacies and youth clubs. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Scotland is offering tampons and other period products free to anyone who needs them — the first nation in the world to do so — as part of a push to end “period poverty.”

From this week, menstrual products will be available free in public spaces such as community centers, pharmacies and youth clubs, in line with legislation initially approved by lawmakers in 2020.

The Scottish initiative comes amid a broader global movement to combat period poverty, in which people are unable to access feminine hygiene products because of their high costs.

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“Proud of what we have achieved in Scotland,” Monica Lennon, the member of parliament who kick-started the Scottish legislation, tweeted Monday. “We are the first but won’t be the last.”

New Zealand announced last year that it would offer free period products in schools, addressing concerns that a lack of access was one of the reasons young people were skipping school. Officials in the South Korean capital, Seoul, began dispensing free menstrual products in some public facilities in 2018 after a public outcry over reports that girls were turning to do-it-yourself solutions such as wrapping tissues around shoe insoles.

In the United States, Colorado this month ended the state sales tax on feminine hygiene products and diapers, following several other states that have reduced or eliminated taxes on menstrual products. Britain abolished a “tampon tax” last year, removing the sales tax on sanitary products.

Scotland moves to become first nation to make pads and tampons free

A study published last year by George Mason University found that more than 14 percent of college women experienced period poverty in the past year, and 10 percent experienced period poverty every month. Black and Latina women reported the highest levels of period poverty, according to the study.

An article published last month in the journal Lancet Planetary Health said that climate change is probably exacerbating period poverty in parts of Africa, where rising temperatures, heat waves and flash floods have led to crop failure, putting a substantial strain on the finances of women in the region.

Health experts say period poverty can have far-reaching consequences. Some homemade alternatives, including rags and tissues, can cause serious or even fatal health hazards, the Lancet article said. In some cases, young girls have traded sex for menstrual health products, increasing their risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections.

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The coronavirus pandemic and rising cost-of-living pressures have compounded the problem of period poverty in many places.

“Providing access to free period products is fundamental to equality and dignity, and removes the financial barriers to accessing them,” Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison said in a statement. “This is more important than ever at a time when people are making difficult choices due to the cost of living crisis and we never want anyone to be in a position where they cannot access period products.”

Miriam Berger contributed to this report.