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Sanitary products should be a right, not a privilege

Because periods suck. Period.

When I moved to Scotland from England as an Edinburgh fresher, I was truly amazed that the Scottish government had recently passed a law to ensure all students had access to free sanitary products. It was a great progressive move that recognised the realities of life faced by 50 per cent of the student population.

Scotland may be leading the world with this initiative. However, now is the time to expand it to everyone – not just students and schoolchildren.

Labour MSP Monica Lennon is proposing a bill that would force the Scottish Government to make access to sanitary products a legal right for all.

Here is why you should support their efforts.

Periods, for many, are the worst and as a society we should be taking steps to limit their impact

We've all got period horror stories. I remember being in a Spoons toilet last summer wearing an all-white co-ord set and getting an unexpected bit of spotting. The only thing that saved me from sheer disaster was the kindness of a random girl I had to very awkwardly approach. The sense of solidarity in the ladies' toilets in Spoons is honestly the purest thing ever.

But is it really too much to ask to not have to rely on the kindness of strangers in these kinds of emergencies? Sanitary products are as essential as toilet paper but society very much does not treat them as such.

Like at least one in ten women, I suffer from a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Its symptoms include acne, weight gain, and irregular (sometimes heavy and painful) periods. In the past, I have had to take time off school because of my periods (I also once confused pre-menstrual pain for an appendicitis but that's a story for another day).

This is a familiar story for those with conditions like PCOS and endometriosis, as well as people who have unexplained heavy, painful periods. We wouldn't refuse products that could help with symptoms for most other illnesses, so why are we letting it happen here?

*spoiler alert* It's called sexism.

This bill is a tangible step to help prevent people from missing school, work, or just general everyday life because of their periods.

Why hasn't this step been taken in the past?

In short, it's because those who have traditionally had the power to do something about it have been men, and if these men aren't confronted by the bloody reality of this situation once a month, they feel little reason to do anything about it.

In case you didn't know, sanitary products are still taxed at 5 per cent VAT because they are considered a "luxury". Yep, I know. A luxury!

There was a debate in the House of Commons about this so-called 'Tampon Tax' in 2016, led by Labour MP Paula Sherriff. The number of male MPs unable to utter the word 'tampon' was astonishing. You simply cannot claim to represent the interests of 50 per cent of your constituents if you are too embarrassed to speak about products they use every month.

It seems important to note here, that it is not just (cis)women that can get periods. So too can some trans-men and non-binary individuals. And these groups are even less well-represented than cis-women in politics.

Periods suck even more if you can't afford decent sanitary products

The average person who experiences periods will spend over £18,000 on them in their lifetime. This figure includes sanitary products, pain relief, and new underwear and bedding due to leakages. This would pay the rent on my Marchmont flat for over 3 years.

£18,000 is money that a lot of people struggling to make ends meet just do not have. Charities like The Trussell Trust, Hygiene Bank, and Period Poverty Edinburgh do work to provide sanitary products to those that can't afford them, but they are reliant on the generosity of others and can never help absolutely everyone that needs them.

The only people with the means and power to end period poverty once and for all are the government. And this is why this bill is so necessary.

So, what can we do about it?

You can sign the petition in support of the Bill for Universal Access to Menstrual Products in Scotland here. There is also a rally being held outside the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 25th February at 12pm. Come along to show your support!

You can also email your MSP, and there's handy template to help with that which can be accessed here.

As students we are so lucky that we already have access to free sanitary products. But there are people that need them just as much as us. Periods are political and it's time this was realised by those in power.