Scotland Becomes the First Country in the World to Recognize the Right to Free Period Products

Scotland Becomes the First Country in the World to Recognize the Right to Free Period Products


Sidal Gökalp

Europe and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

On August 15, Scotland adopted a new legislation protecting the right to free sanitary products such as menstrual pads and tampons. Monica Lennon, Labour MSP, campaigned for the legislation, which was unanimously voted in 2020 by the Scottish Parliament. It is the first country in the world to provide free period products through the recognition of the right in question. Under the Bill, the Scottish Government will set up a Scotland-wide scheme to allow anyone who needs period products to get them free of charge; schools, colleges and universities must make a range of menstrual products available for free while the Government will have the power to make other public entities provide period products for free. 

Around the world, 500 million people do not have access to adequate menstrual hygiene products, while an estimate of 800 million women have their periods. The “period poverty” causes people to resort to unsafe materials because their schools or workplace do not provide them with free menstrual products. Advocates worldwide are fighting for the recognition of the right to access to free period products with safety and dignity, or at least receive tax exemptions on menstrual products. 

In 2007, the European Union introduced a VAT (Value-Added Tax) Directive, allowing countries to amend their “Tampon Tax” down to a specified minimum. Although many countries opted to do so, half of the member states continue to apply the standard VAT rate to sanitary towels and tampons, in the same category as jewellery, wine, beer and cigarettes. In 10 of these countries, this rate is over 20 per cent: Hungary, at 27 per cent, Croatia, Switzerland and Denmark, at 25 per cent. On the other hand, Ireland and Malta introduced 0 per cent tax on period products before the VAT directive. 

Sources and further reading:

Alvarez Del Vayo, Maria and Belmonte Eva. Civio (2018, November 7). Half of the European countries levy the same VAT on sanitary towels and tampons as on tobacco, beer and wine.

BBC (2022, August 15). Right to free period products becomes law in Scotland.

European Parliament (2020, December 10). Period Poverty in the EU, Question for written answer, E-006746/2020, to the Commission, Rule 138, Dan-Ştefan Motreanu (PPE).

Rodriguez, Lena. Global Citizen (2021, June 28). The Tampon Tax: Everything You Need to Know

The Scottish Parliament. Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill