Scotland voted to make tampons and pads free for everyone. Will the U.S. catch up?

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Earlier this week, Scotland became the first country in the world to guarantee access to menstrual products to its citizens in a move to end "period poverty." The initiative will make pads and tampons free to everyone; at present, they're already provided for free to high school students and those attending colleges and universities in the country. The government estimates that the program will have an annual cost of about $31 million.

The legislation was drafted by Monica Lennon, who said to The New York Times that its passage is significant for those "individuals who have had their own lived experience of period poverty and know what it is like not to have access to products when they need them."

The move comes after an increasingly vocal global movement to end the shame and stigma many young people feel about their periods, as well as increased awareness of the cost of products itself and the additional “pink taxes” that are levied on products mainly targeted toward women and often deemed not medically necessary. Seventy-one percent of girls and women in the U.K. between the ages of 14 and 21 admitted that they had felt embarrassed buying menstrual products, and nearly half said they are embarrassed by their periods.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are 800 million people around the world who are menstruating on a given day, 500 million of whom don’t have access to adequate menstrual products and information.

In the United States, the lack of affordable menstrual products amounts to income discrimination, as Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (commonly known as the food stamps program) and Women, Infants, and Children benefits cannot be used to purchase tampons and pads. A person who menstruates can expect to spend more than $1,000 on menstrual products throughout their lifetime, per the ACLU, a financial burden that stems from a biological necessity and disproportionately affects low-income families and individuals. A 2019 survey found that two-thirds of low-income women could not afford to buy menstrual products and sometimes had to choose between buying food and buying tampons or pads.

The lack of period equity and access to menstrual products has been linked with negative outcomes on an adolescent’s educational experience, and for those who suffer from homelessness, there are studies that show increased rates of infection due to overuse of menstrual products.

Some states and cities in the U.S. are experimenting with different ways of establishing period equity. In 2016, New York City opted to supply tampons and pads in public schools, jails, and shelters. Last year, state legislatures in New Hampshire and Georgia voted to provide free menstrual products to students at public schools, and in June 2019, Salt Lake City, Utah, implemented a pilot program to supply restrooms in city buildings with menstrual products. There's also an effort in Los Angeles to place tampons and pads in every public restroom in the city.

In the meantime, though, the U.S. is far from Scotland's nationwide effort to make the products free for all those who need them.