Edinburgh — For half of the world’s population, sanitary products are a necessity.
With costs soaring to $11 per month, for many women, these items have become a luxury.
But a social enterprise called Hey Girls is trying to change that by providing free sanitary products.
A new law passed earlier this year made Scotland the first country in the world to provide free tampons and sanitary pads to anyone who needs them in a move toward ending period poverty. Hey Girls manufactures some of those products.
“We define period poverty as having to choose between a packet of period products and say, something like a packet of pasta or some other, you know, basic necessity, be it energy or food,” Ailsa Colquhoun of Hey Girls told CBS News’ Roxana Saberi. “And when people can afford period products, they tend to opt for obviously food and energy. So it means going without what you need for your period.”
According to the World Bank, globally, 500 million women and girls lack access to menstrual products. In the U.S., a 2019 study in St. Louis found that two thirds of low income women could not afford period products. In Scotland, a quarter of girls in school, colleges and universities have experienced period poverty.
The consequences of period poverty sometimes leads women to use unsafe or poor quality items while on their menstrual cycle.
“They might not be able to leave their house, and that means missing out on days at work,” said Colquhoun. “If they do choose to go out to the workplace or do an interview, they’re going to have to use something that’s substandard. Even things like bread.”
That led Scottish politician Monica Lennon to propose the legislation in 2019, despite the fact that the subject matter was uncomfortable for some to discuss.
“I think there were some red faces,” Lennon said. “I think we felt awkward about it, but I think that just shows that we need culture change where we normalize discussions about menstruation. It’s about changing the conversation.”
To assist the effort, the government in Scotland has helped Hey Girls launch an app showing where to collect the free products, with locations that include pharmacies, schools universities and public buildings.
In Glasgow, for example, women are directed to a public library to pick up their period products.
Demand is doubling every month, according to Lauren Heany of a homeless charity called The Simon Community. Heany thinks such programs should be replicated in other countries.
“It’s not a hard project to replicate,” she said. “It’s really simple, and the benefit that it brings to people is really fantastic.”
In the U.S., some cities and states have started giving out free period products in public schools and colleges. South Africa, South Korea and New Zealand have started taking similar steps.
“It’s about women and girls being valued and being respected,” Lennon said. “It’s a signal, and it sends out that message that periods are normal.”