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Scotland is making free period products the norm

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Paying for period products is now a thing of the past in Scotland. Nearly two years after the country's parliament initially passed the landmark legislation, anyone who needs period products can download a free app and find a location offering sanitary products or even have them delivered to their home. Monica Lennon is a member of the Scottish Labour Party and drafted the initial legislation for the Period Products Act in 2020. She says, though Scotland may have been the first, they will not be the last, and Monica Lennon joins us today. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MONICA LENNON: Hi. Thank you for speaking to me today.

SUMMERS: Thanks for being here. So why is it so important to you that people have access to free period products?

LENNON: Well, it's hugely important because periods are normal - they're a normal part of life - but too many people struggle to afford the period pads and tampons that they need. It affects people's health and well-being, mentally and physically and participation in education and in the workplace. Back in 2016, when I started to research the issue through my role in Parliament, sometimes women said that they struggled to manage their periods in a dignified way because they had an abusive husband or partner. So domestic violence was an issue. Disabled people had sometimes different experiences. So there's a lot going on there, and we just found that periods were shrouded in mystery and stigma for too many people. Even in a country like Scotland, where we think we are really progressive, this was still a really hidden issue.

SUMMERS: OK. So these are free for everyone. Can you give us an example of places where people could go and get free period products? Are there - is that mapped out yet?

LENNON: Yeah. So if you are in education - whether that's in school, college or university - the free period products are already available. So in the wider community, it'll depends on the region. In Scotland, some areas are very rural and remote. Some are more urban and metropolitan. So it might be the local library or leisure center. So in each part of Scotland, the local communities have told the decision-makers where they want the products to be, and the app brings it all together. So not everyone, but most people have smartphones nowadays. So you can download the app, put in your postcode or ZIP code and find out what's the nearest pickup point. So it's called Pick Up My Periods app, and that's another tool.

SUMMERS: And how is Scotland paying for these products?

LENNON: As we did the pilot schemes and evaluated, we could see that it didn't have to be a big expense. Savings were made as the project developed. So some organizations felt we had to put in a special vending machine that would go on the wall, would have to be installed, and there would be procurement cost. But actually, most places have put a basket or a box into the bathroom and a little sign saying, please help yourself. And we found that it hasn't been abused. People haven't come in, you know, with a truck or a van to take away all the products. People really like it. And people can still buy products if they want to, and I think most people will do that. So this is a safety net for people who need that little bit of extra support. It's not compulsory to take the free period products (laughter).

SUMMERS: Yes. No one is making you take free tampons and menstrual cups. Right.

LENNON: No. No. Think of the injustice of it. But what's really exciting is we're seeing more and more private employers doing this because they see the benefit, and they want us to, like, know that they are, you know, period friendly. It's a place where women and girls and people who menstruate will feel supported. And if you are menstruating, you don't have to panic, you know? Not everyone can carry a suite of pads in their purse or back pocket at all times. So when you go into the washroom, and there's paper towels to dry your hands, there's - you know, there's toilet roll. Period pads and products will be there, too, and that should just become normal as time goes on.

SUMMERS: Monica Lennon, member of the Scottish Parliament, thank you so much for your time.

LENNON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Megan Lim
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.