Top: Monica Lennon leads campaign to end period poverty
A four-year grassroots campaign, spearheaded by Labour MSP and health spokeswoman Monica Lennon, achieved its goal earlier this week, as a bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament that will end period poverty in the country.
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill, which was unanimously approved – 121 votes to zero – by MSPs on Tuesday, places a legal duty on local authorities to make sure anyone who needs period products can obtain them free of charge.
In doing so, Scotland blazes a trail, becoming the first country in the world to make sanitary products free – "a significant move for gender equality", according to Scotland's communities secretary, Aileen Campbell.
The scheme, estimated to cost about £8.7m a year, will not be means tested, and it was not a straightforward win. The Scottish Government had initially challenged it, but eventually switched to join cross-party support after facing growing pressure from its own activists, as well as from a coalition of trade unions and civil society groups encouraged by Lennon.
The breakthrough could not have come at a more important moment, with the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in a surge in period poverty across the UK. Charity Bloody Good Period, which supplies food banks, those fleeing domestic violence, asylum-seekers, refugees, homeless shelters and even NHS frontline workers, says it is supplying almost six times as many menstrual products compared with before the pandemic started.
Lennon, who has been working to tackle period poverty since she was elected to Holyrood in 2016, said: "Periods don't stop for pandemics and the work to improve access to essential tampons, pads and reusables has never been more important."
Rose Caldwell, chief executive of the charity Plan International UK, added: "In making this world-first commitment, the Scottish Government has shown itself to be a pioneer in tackling period poverty, and we hope that nations around the world will follow its lead.”
The dedication and bravery of Lennon and her fellow campaigners will fundamentally shift the public discourse around menstruation, not just in Scotland but in the rest of the UK and beyond.
Rob McKinlay, head of audience engagement
Top: Duchess of Sussex talks openly about miscarriage to tackle stigma
In an interview with the New York Times this week, the Duchess of Sussex spoke of the “almost unbearable grief” she felt after losing a baby in pregnancy earlier in the year.
In addition to the bravery she showed by sharing such a deeply personal loss, she did a service to others by attempting to end what she called the “unwarranted shame”… “experienced by many but talked about by few”.
In particular, the Duchess' decision to share her harrowing experience has received widespread praise from charities and others for breaking down the stigma associated with miscarriage and for educating people about how common it is.
“what would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? the world would split open.”— Monica Lewinsky (@MonicaLewinsky) November 25, 2020
a private pain shared publicly may not help you, but it helps someone. Opinion | Meghan Markle: The Losses We Share - The New York Times https://t.co/7Wzjscgt5m
Tommy’s charity, which funds research into miscarriage, stillbirth and premature birth, estimates that a quarter of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Sophie King, a midwife for the charity, told the BBC that baby loss in pregnancy is “a taboo in society” and that the interview with the Duchess was a “vital step in breaking down stigma and shame”, sending a “powerful message” to those in similar circumstances that they are not alone.
Another charity, the Miscarriage Association, added: “When somebody in the public eye talks about it openly, it's helpful for other people to know that they are not alone.”
The comms teams in these and similar charities now have Meghan's powerful message to draw upon to start difficult conversations with potential supporters and to build on in their further efforts to end the stigma.
And by talking about her husband’s grief in the interview as well, she has done men a kindness; telling them that it is OK to openly express their loss, too.
Ian Griggs, associate editor