A Scottish council has become the first local authority in the UK to offer free sanitary products in all of its public buildings.
Women across North Ayrshire will be able to access a free supply of tampons and sanitary towels in libraries, community centres and public offices.
The move aims to address the growing issue of “period poverty” which sees women and girls across the country forced to use unsuitable items or nothing at all to manage their periods because they cannot afford the necessary products.
A study by girls’ rights charity, Plan International UK, found 45 percent of respondents living in Scotland said they had no choice but to use makeshift sanitary wear including newspaper and socks in place of sanitary towels and tampons because of financial difficulty.
The council has already made the headlines on the issue when it became the first local authority in the UK to introduce free sanitary products within its secondary schools, at a cost of around £35,000 a year.
Since spearheading the initiative last August, young woman have benefitted from more than 13,000 free sanitary towels and tampons while at school.
Their decision to extend the programme into the wider community will see the introduction of free sanitary products in up to 100 of its buildings and is anticipated to cost around £30,000 per year.
Women will be able to access the sanitary wear via vending machines located in the toilets.
Council leader Joe Cullinane said: “Sanitary products are a necessity, not a choice. I wish for no woman or girl here in North Ayrshire to find themselves in the embarrassing and often degrading situation of having to use improper sanitary protection simply because they cannot afford it.
“After all, periods are not exempt from poverty – they don’t take into account what is in your pocket or purse. Therefore it is absolutely right that we should look at ways in which to tackle this gendered inequality.”
Monica Lennon MSP, a leading figure in the fight against period poverty, is currently progressing the Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill which, if introduced, would create a statutory duty for free provision of sanitary products across the country.
She added: “Councillor Cullinane and North Ayrshire Council are leading the way on ending period poverty. Access to sanitary products should be a right, regardless of your income, which is why I am moving ahead with plans for legislation to introduce a universal system of free access to sanitary products for everyone in Scotland.
“I’m delighted that North Ayrshire will extend free sanitary product provision to all of its public buildings and I hope other organisations will follow their lead. No-one should face the indignity of being unable to access these essential products to manage their period.”
Meanwhile in March the Scottish government announced that a pilot project to provide free sanitary products to women from low-income households in Aberdeen would be extended.
An additional £12,000 was made available to continue the scheme run by social enterprise Community Food Initiatives North East (CFINE.)