In Conversation with Aileen Campbell SNP MSP

News Editor’s Note: We are aware that not everyone experiencing periods identify as a woman.


On 12th September 2019, The Student Newspaper was given the opportunity to interview Ailleen Campbell during her visit to the University of Edinburgh to discuss the progress and future plans for the Scottish Government’s scheme to tackle period poverty.


Last year, The Scottish Government scheme to make free sanitary products available to all of Scotland’s pupils and students was established. How successful was it and do you think it has gone far enough?

Last year, we heard lots of different stories about how this scheme has provided empowerment, availability, and accessibility in schools and campuses; this is primarily by the fact that we recognise that period poverty is something that we need to tackle. However, more than that, it’s about raising awareness of periods; talking about them openly and reducing the stigma. It’s wonderful to see how this policy has grown, from simply making period products available, to changing the culture of how periods are viewed in Scotland.

I remember speaking to some women in Aberdeen about how they would go to the toilet and hide their sanitary products up their sleeves; they felt embarrassed to show their male colleagues that they were on their period. Therefore, with this scheme has also come a universal shift in mentalities behind periods. Even football clubs, which are dominated by men, are making products available to their fans which means this scheme is taking on a life of its own. This momentum shows that when we work together as a country, we can make incredible things happen.


Why do you think it’s important to tackle period poverty?

While it’s been great to talk about the stigma, fundamentally my portfolio is about social justice. It’s sad that people aren’t allowed to afford the basic necessities of life; for that to happen in 2019 in Scotland, with the pressures of continued austerity, welfare reforms, and Brexit is unacceptable. Therefore, we need to make sure there is accessibility to products; we must support women who are vulnerable and continue to raise awareness of this sad reality.

Many people across Scotland think this only happens in Third World countries, where women would miss out on their education and work because of their period. In truth, it does happen here, and it’s important we tackle poverty in general, but this focus is a great starting point.


Following the New Scotts strategy, how do you plan on increasing funds to deal with period poverty amongst Syrian refugees?

We also work with Fair Share through their distribution networks to ensure there is accessibility to many parts of the country, and this has been one of the ways we have made sure refugees have had access to their products. This is something which we have to work gently with people who are coming to Scotland and experiencing a completely different culture. What’s positive about the Refugee Resettlement programme is that all 32 local authorities have welcomed families to Scotland, so everyone is stepping up and wants to ensure that Scotland is a welcoming country and support people who have gone through incredible trauma and stress. What we’re seeing is a lot of local authorities adapting to make sure people are welcome to Scottish life and society. For example, Dundee United is giving away free tickets to see the football, and it’s these little things that make a huge difference to ensure integration.


Do you think it’s time for expansion of the project to include more sustainable sanitary products?

Absolutely. Again, this is what has been really impressive about the approach that has been taken here at Edinburgh University. There has been flexibility to enable educational bodies to transition. We have cups and various organic products. It allows women and girls to use and try out different products. Now people are a lot more conscious of the impact of climate change the need to reduce waste, so I will continue to work across portfolios. For example, Roseanna Cunningham, our environment minister, is looking to make sure that necessities such as sanitary products are much more sustainable in response to the climate emergency and make sure our policy hits the mark across many priorities within our wider government.


Image: Patricia Moraleda via pixabay

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