Speech : Feminine Hygiene Products

Rhoda's speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

27 September 2016

I congratulate Monica Lennon on bringing the debate to the chamber.

The issue is important for all women, and especially those who have medical conditions or are in financial hardship.

That was brought home to me a couple of weeks ago when Kezia Dugdale was collecting for Edinburgh Women’s Aid.

She had a box in her office and she was encouraging us all to make contributions.

What the organisation really needed for the women whom it was serving was toiletries and sanitary products.

It was quite sad that we were collecting for those things and that they were not supplied as a very basic necessity for those women.

When people do not have the financial means to afford very basic supplies, that is a problem throughout Scotland.

However, it is a bigger problem in rural Scotland because everything costs much more in the small shops that supply those areas.

People who are in financial hardship cannot travel to the big towns to access cheaper products, and they sometimes pay twice as much in a rural shop as they would in a town.

Bearing in mind the fact that women may use 12,000 of those products over a lifetime, that adds a huge burden on those who live in rural areas.

They also have fewer opportunities to access organisations such as the Trussell Trust, whose work in supplying such products to women was highlighted by Monica Lennon.

That work will provide a lifeline for some women, but those organisations do not operate as much in rural areas, so we need to look at other ways of addressing the issue.

As other members mentioned, lack of access to such products can be a health risk due to conditions such as toxic shock syndrome.

It is important that we encourage people to change products as often as possible, because otherwise they can present a real health risk.

We cannot be prescriptive about the types of product that are used, because everybody has different needs.

Health conditions such as polycystic ovaries and fibroids can lead to a much greater need for various products, as they can make periods very long and heavy and often mean that women need to use a lot more products than would normally be used in a month.

The motion mentions the work that is being done in New York, and we all applaud the city’s action in supplying free sanitary products in schools, prisons and homeless shelters.

As other members have mentioned, contraceptive supplies are free on the NHS from general practitioners and other health providers, which indicates that we see contraception as an essential intervention.

The same is true for incontinence supplies, which are provided by community nurses free of charge to those who need them.

Surely we should look at sanitary products in exactly the same way—it is about dignity and the right to hygiene and health. Perhaps we can look at some way of getting those products out to people, either through the health service or in other ways.

People may complain that it is not a health issue, and someone may not access their community nurse or GP simply because they need those products.

Perhaps we could look at whether people on benefits or those who have other needs could apply once for a voucher or a card to give them supplies; they could perhaps use it in shops.

People such as health visitors and family nurses have access to young families and could introduce them to that kind of scheme.

My preparation for the debate brought to mind a report that I heard about last week, which focused on women taking time off work because of menstrual problems such as pre-menstrual tension and pain.

The report highlighted the fact that women were embarrassed to tell their employer the real cause of their absence, because they were pretty sure that they would not get a fair hearing—employers would say that they should be pitching up and doing their work and that it was only an excuse.

It really is an equality issue for women, as they should be able to take time off if they are not well and are in pain and discomfort.

We need to ensure that access to very basic products is a human right, and a right to dignity, which should be met with understanding and care. We should do something about the issue to ensure that people have access to those products.