Humanities and Arts

Introduction: The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act 2021 in the Context of Menstrual Politics and History

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In January 2021, Scotland became the first country in the world to make universal access to free period products a legal right, an initiative which attracted extraordinary international attention. This introduction outlines what is indeed new and ground-breaking about this law from the perspective of the history of menstruation, and what merely continues traditional and widespread conceptions, policies and practices surrounding menstruation. On the basis of an analysis of the parliamentary debates of the Act, we show that it gained broad political support by satisfying a combination of ten different political agendas: promoting gender equality for women while acknowledging broader gender diversity, practically alleviating one high-profile aspect of poverty at a relatively low overall cost to the state, tackling menstrual stigma, improving access to education, working with grassroots campaigners, improving public health, and accommodating sustainability concerns, as well as the desire to pass world-leading legislation in itself. In each case, we show to what extent the particular political aim is typical of, or departs from, recent wider trajectories in the history and politics of menstruation, and, where pertinent, trajectories in Scottish political history. The ten agendas in their international context provide a kaleidoscopic insight into the current state of menstrual politics and history in Scotland and beyond. This introduction also situates this Special Collection as a whole in relation to the field of Critical Menstruation Studies and provides background information about the legislative process and key terminology in Scottish politics and in the history of menstruation.