Period equity and dignity

Glasgow is committed to facilitating access to period products. Through its schools, its cultural and sports body called Glasgow Life, and social enterprises like Hey Girls, the Scottish city is fighting the stigma.   

Everything started in 2017 when the council passed a motion to provide students with free sanitary products. This decision and its pilot helped shape the Scottish Government response to period equity 

Since then, educational institutions in Glasgow have actively provided period products and educational information to pupils – but the new policy means that a range of products will be on hand without the need to ask anyone. “Period products are a right, not a luxury. The monthly expenditure for period products is simply not affordable, nor sustainable for many individuals across the country,” says Bailie (Councillor) Annette Christie, Convener for Wellbeing, Empowerment, Community & Citizen Engagement. 

Free period products in schools  

“The lack of access or affordability to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities or waste management may trigger missing school, college, or university,” says Michele Cairney-McClung, Strategic Support Services Manager, Education Services and Officer with City Lead for Period Dignity, which is against a women’s human right to access education.” 

Period products are a right, not a luxury.
— Bailie Annette Christie

Girls from Hillpark Secondary, St Paul’s High, Castlemilk High and Smithycroft Secondary schools worked with the local government to determine and analyse period issues in their school community. Pupils have been involved in the co-design and creation of activities, from surveys to events, to identify and share best practices in the city-wide fight against period poverty.

These pupil-led activities showcased menstruation resources, and games such as True or False, became an opportunity to explore menstrual cups and cloth pads. Third-year secondary school students also received training to teach physical, mental, and social well-being to first-year secondary school classes.  

A group of 8 female students and three teachers
St Pauls’ pupils in Glasgow

“What better way to tackle an issue than by empowering the very girls that will benefit from our policy,” says Bailie Christie. “I am extremely impressed by the pupils at my local school Smithycroft Secondary and the other schools across Glasgow, for their dedication and determination to help address the stigma associated with periods.” 

And on the streets  

Fighting against period poverty requires actions beyond educational institutions. The Period Products (Free Provision) Scotland Act 2021 will come into force by January 2023. The national act places responsibility on local authorities and education providers to make products accessible and free of charge for anyone who needs them. 

Periods and sanitary protection can still be an embarrassing topic. Even more so if a young person finds themselves unable to afford the items every month
— Michele Cairney-McClung

“Even when no subject is seemingly taboo or off limits to young people, periods and sanitary protection can still be an embarrassing topic. And, even more so if a young person finds themselves unable to afford the items every month,” states Cairney-McClung.  

Glasgow consulted with citizens and organisations who required access to menstruation products ahead of the 2023 deadline. Working with Glasgow Life and Simon Community, period friendly points across the city were increased. The ‘PickupMyPeriod’ app recently launched at St Paul’s High School allows users to identify locations across Scotland where free period products will be available.  

Hey girl products are available at 56 public sites across the city. Within the next few months, public spaces across 16 police stations and several health sites, including a pilot in public spaces in Glasgow’s largest hospital, will be added to the list. 

Equity and sustainability are also part of the programme. The Hey Girls’ sanitary pads are chlorine and dioxin free, individually wrapped in biodegradable film and made from natural bamboo and corn fibre. “In addition, for every pack that we procure, Hey Girls donate a free packet to support period equity,” says Cairney-McClung.

The stigma that lasts up to today  

Free period products help normalise the topic. Information on the menstrual cycle empowers girls. Without both, says Cairney-McClung, “menstrual conditions will continue to go unrecognised, marginalised and misunderstood. And women’s health and other outcomes, like education, suffer.” 

For too long, menstrual health has been silenced. It's vital that we address the impact conditions like period equity can have on education and make menstrual wellbeing and dignity a reality for all pupils
— Michele Cairney-McClung

Through its partnerships, the city council also supplies education material. Especially at young ages, the school can provide reliable information to counter embarrassment, stigma, cultural barriers, taboos, and bullying. “For too long, menstrual health has been silenced, and it’s vital that we address the impact conditions like period equity and others can have on education and make menstrual wellbeing and dignity a reality for all pupils,” says Cairney-McClung.  

A group of 6 female students
St Pauls’ pupils in Glasgow

She hopes that their work at the council will go beyond schools, empower a broader spectrum of women, and influence menstrual health policies. “We see this as a key opportunity to ensure future generations are supported and given the education they need to make informed decisions about their health,” she says.  

“Glasgow schools have become world leaders in providing period products and menstrual wellbeing education,” declares Bailie Christie.  

“We have successfully worked with the Scottish Government in implementing access to free period products in schools and communities. I hope this inspires other cities across Europe to co-produce policies and pilot initiatives with young girls, who have been crucial in developing ways to access products to meet their needs. I also hope that, in turn, this influences the EU Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 which commits to gender aspects of health being facilitated, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. I hope this is especially welcomed in the European Year of Youth,” she adds. 

Marta Buces Eurocities Writer