We should not let Scotland’s period dignity law be overshadowed by unnecessary controversy

Scotland led the world this week as the Period Products Act, which requires councils and educational establishments to make free period products available, came into force.

Although the measure was passed by the Scottish Parliament, the bulk of the credit for this has to go to Labour MSP Monica Lennon. She set the ball rolling by introducing a Members’ Bill and fought so hard to persuade the Scottish Government to back the measure. It took them longer than it should have done, but they got there in the end.

From Holyrood Magazine:

Labour’s Monica Lennon, who campaigned for the provision, said councils and partner organisations have “worked hard to make the legal right to access free period products a reality”.

She said: “This is another milestone for period dignity campaigners and grassroots movements which shows the difference that progressive and bold political choices can make.

“As the cost-of-living crisis takes hold, the Period Products Act is a beacon of hope which shows what can be achieved when politicians come together for the good of the people we serve.”

Back in 2017, Scotland’s  feminist organisation, Engender, held a roundtable discussion on period poverty. Later their response to the consultation on the Bill highlighted the barriers to accessing period products.

It is vital that the provision of free period products not be linked to, for example, the social security system. Poverty is not the sole reason behind women’s lack of access to sanitary products. For example, the link between access to sanitary products and domestic abuse was made by a number of roundtable participants, who explained that the denial of access to products can be a method of control by an abusive partner.

Income and other resources are often not controlled or shared equally within the household. In many cases, women take on the role of acting as the buffer between their children and the impact of household poverty. Put simply, mothers forego their own consumption to meet the needs of their children.

Whilst income level may be one of the contributing factors to period poverty in Scotland, the solutions developed to meet women and girls’ menstrual needs must recognise that slightly increasing household income (e.g., by the cost of menstrual products) will not directly result in women gaining greater access to period products.

Soaring living costs put even more pressure on household incomes so this measure is more needed than ever.

However, this Scottish success story was overshadowed by controversy. There was a huge furore over the appointment of Jason Grant as Period Dignity Officer to Dundee and Angus colleges. Even Martina Navratilova got involved, calling the appointment absurd.

I am finding it difficult to find any outrage in my heart about this. For a start, the job seems to be very much implementation and logistics. It’s about identifying where the supplies are needed so that everyone who has periods can get them and telling them where they are. The job advert says:

The Lead Officer will provide outstanding project leadership and management for a range of activities, events, and outcomes. This will include engaging with staff, partners, communities and young people in developing and delivering a campaign that stretches across our regions, raising awareness and understanding of the Period Product Act and the expanse of work happening in our respective communities

Energy, enthusiasm and excellent interpersonal skills are needed, backed up with a qualification at degree level and a successful track record of engaging and empowering a large range of people from a diverse range of cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, in particular young people who menstruate.

I think there are advantages in having a man in this  role. Eliminating stigma around menstruation is something society as a whole has to do. We need positive role models of men being supportive about periods.

It’s good for girls and women to see that there are some men trying to do something about the sniggering and the negative attitudes to menstruation. Men and boys need to see people like them helping them to understand and be supportive and calling them out for the tiresome “must be the time of the month” comments if a woman dares express irritation about anything.

We shouldn’t let this irrelevant row take away from Scotland’s huge achievement. A period will no longer mean having to stay away from school or work because you can’t access tampons, towels or mooncups. The only outrage should be that it’s taken this long to get here and that we are the first.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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One Comment

  • I think the biggest problem with a man being appointed as the first “Period Dignity Officer” was it came with a great deal of fanfare, and a PR release with a photo showing him explaining period products to a teenager and her middle-aged mother, while another middle-aged man watched on for no apparent reason. A later explanation was that the 2nd man was a representative of the college.

    I wouldn’t say I’m outraged, and it shouldn’t over-shadow the positive aspects of the bill coming into force, but the whole thing seems daft, and I don’t think it’s been helpful that some have tried to imply that those who have asked questions are a bunch of bigots. Needless to say, some of the attempts to defend the appointment make it even worse. One example I saw was “It’s OK, he’s just the man in charge of the women who will be doing the actual work”.

    As we learn more, the appointment does look to be suspect. Not because it’s a man, but because of aspects of how it was advertised and the relationship between the man and one of the women on the panel. There are questions that need answered about the appointment process, which probably aren’t limited to this particular post, which comes with a salary higher than I’d have expected given the job description.

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