Scotland is set to become the first country to provide free pads and tampons – a big win for the global movement to roll back onerous pricing for period products, including “tampon taxes” that class sanitary pads as luxury items.
The Scottish parliament approved a plan Tuesday to make menstrual products available free in public spaces such as community centers, pharmacies and youth clubs. The country has offered pads and tampons free of charge at schools and universities as a matter of national policy since 2018.
The new plan will cost Edinburgh an estimated $31.2 million a year.
The legislation passed an initial vote with 112 in favor, none against and one abstention, Reuters reported. It now heads to a second phase during which legislators can propose amendments.
The legislation is a “milestone moment for normalizing menstruation in Scotland and sending out that real signal to people in this country about how seriously parliament takes gender equality,” the bill’s sponsor, Monica Lennon, said during a debate in Parliament.
“We are changing the culture and it’s really exciting that other countries right around the world are watching very closely to see what we do,” she said.
Internationally, lawmakers and activists have expressed anger at policies that force women to pay comparatively high taxes for necessities that do not always go acknowledged as such. In Scotland, a study found that one in four women at schools and universities had trouble accessing menstrual products before they became free for students.
This gendering of the tax laws has proved difficult to address. In 2016, the United Kingdom pledged to end its five percent “tampon tax,” but has put off the change, citing uncertainty over Brexit and the impediment of European Union tax regulations. Scotland, which is part of the U.K., seems to have circumvented the issue by moving to offer them free.
The E.U. has pledged to remove all sales tax requirements on period products beginning in 2022. It will then be up to individual member countries to determine how much to tax pads and tampons.