From persuading the Scottish Government that “period poverty” in Scotland is real to asking MSPs to legislate for free universal access to period products, a sustained focus on period equality has resulted in significant action over the last three and half years. 

Tomorrow’s vote could be a milestone moment for menstruation, with all party leaders signalling their support for the general principles of the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill. 

When I lodged written questions to the Government during the summer recess of 2016, to ask what work ministers were doing to assess the affordability and accessibility of sanitary products and address the stigma associated with periods, I was trying to get a better understanding of the impact of austerity on women and girls.

As a rookie MSP, I was surprised when a Herald journalist, who had seen the questions on the Parliament website, called me up to ask for my reaction to the Scottish Government’s response. It transpired that the issue was not on the radar of ministers at all and that they had no plans at that time to assess affordability or accessibility of products. The final line of the response from Shona Robison, who was the health secretary of the day, said: “We are aware that food banks in Scotland will often provide sanitary products, usually as part of a broader offer of other personal hygiene products such as nappies or soap.”

Since then, Scotland has certainly come a long way. The Scottish Government and their partners deserve to be commended for rolling out period products provision in education settings and in some community settings. A recent YoungScot survey shows that one in eight young people have accessed free period products because they could not afford them. Access to period products is not simply a “women’s issue”, it is an economic one too. 

Without access to period products, the independence of women and girls is stymied, and workplace productivity and educational attainment suffers. Not having adequate access to period products is a health and wellbeing concern – and it affects GDP too. 
Nicola Sturgeon has put wellbeing at the heart of her vision for Scotland in recent keynote speeches, committing the Scottish Government to investigate how a “wellbeing economy” could be created - and she is on record saying that everyone should have the right to access period products, as they are essentials and not luxuries.

It is wrong to characterise plans to legislate for universal access to free period products as a “handout”. This global gender inequality has been around since the dawn of time, and campaigners have had enough. 

That is why we need legislation, and why we need to pass this bill. 

Periods are increasingly a hot political issue around the world, but this week all eyes are on Scotland. 

What does the bill do? lt places a duty on Scottish ministers to ensure that period products are made available free of charge on a universal basis. 

Accessing the scheme would be a matter of individual choice and no one would be required to use it. 

The bill also requires education providers to make period products available free of charge in toilets, ensuring that the successful Scottish Government roll-out of tampons, pads and reusables in all schools, colleges and universities can continue and survive future changes in government. 

The bill provides a legal framework, giving maximum flexibility to ministers to decide on operational issues through regulations. 

No nation has ever legislated in this way, but Holyrood has form for progressive change. 

The Scottish Parliament is already the first legislature in the world to have “period friendly” toilets, stocked with free period products so that MSPs, staff and visitors are never caught short.

Now, politicians will be asked to extend that convenience to the rest of the country. 
Politics is at its best when it makes a practical difference to the lives of millions of people. 

The public consultation on the bill generated a huge response, with 96 per cent of respondents showing support. Periods are hard enough without means testing and that’s why I am glad the Scottish Government has shifted from a non-statutory targeted approach to confirming it will back the bill at stage 1.

Evidence from the experts recognises the importance of both legislation and universalism. Engender, who were one of the first voices to urge ministers to look again at this issue when The Herald picked up my questions all the way back in 2016, recognise that current work by the Scottish Government is positive – but that it is also limited in that it is a targeted approach and that product access is variable, with examples of good practice and bad. 

The growing list of organisations and supporters of the bill spans the political divide, and they will rally outside Parliament tomorrow to show their support. Thanks to their activism, Scotland stands on the brink of pioneering change. 
Legislation is necessary to guarantee period dignity for all. Passing this bill will put Scotland on the map. Period.

Monica Lennon is a Labour MSP for the Central Scotland region.