The #FreePeriodScotland study conducted by Women for Independence (WFI) has shown that one in five menstruating women in Scotland cannot afford sanitary products, such as sanitary towels or tampons.
The consultation, which canvassed 1000 menstruating women on their experiences, concluded that nearly 20% face “period poverty”, a term used to denote financial hardship with regards to menstruation, such as difficulty affording essential products.
A similar number admitted to relying on external sources for sanitary provisions, such as family members, or food banks. 10% of those surveyed responded that they were forced to prioritize other purchases, such as food, and go without sanitary products.
Where respondents were unable to afford period-specific products, items including toilet roll, socks and newspapers were cited as replacements.
22% of respondents used products longer than advised – for example, wearing a sanitary towel for more hours than recommended – to avoid mounting costs; 11% reported problems including urinary tract infections as a direct result of this.
Over the last few years, multiple initiatives have been launched to combat so-called “period poverty”: In December, Glasgow University-based society Red Alert ran their third Christmas “washbag appeal” campaign. This saw students donating over 100 washbags containing hygiene products, including a packet of towels or tampons, which were donated to the Simon Community charity.
A pilot scheme in Aberdeen offered low-income families free access to products and the findings of this trial will be soon delivered to the Scottish Parliament. The SNP have also already guaranteed the provision of free sanitary products in educational buildings from the start of the next academic year.
#FreePeriodScotland also documents the emotional effect period poverty has on those subjected to it. Respondents reported avoiding social and educational commitments out of shame; others worried about smell and comfort due to their situation.
Speaking to The Guardian, Victoria Heaney, founder of the study, described its findings as “incredible”. She points out, also, how this highlights the “detrimental impact” of the “emotional labour [from] concealing that you are going without products”.
The links between health and access are highlighted by this survey. Heaney’s findings demonstrate that sanitary products, still deemed “non-essential luxury items” in the eyes of the law, are far from a luxury, but rather demonstrate an urgent public health issue.