SCOTLAND is a step closer to becoming the first country in the world to give women and girls access to free sanitary products, The National can reveal.

Growing concern about the risks to the health and education of women and girls who cannot afford sanitary products has prompted the move.

The issue is now being investigated by communities minister Angela Constance.

Constance has said she will look at the possibility of introducing an “S-card” similar to the existing C-Card for free access to condoms.

The idea was first put forward by Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin at last May’s SNP National Council which decides party policy. The resolution was passed unanimously.

The card could be handed into a local pharmacy, supermarket, GP practice or other providers. Martin believes it should be available to all and not means tested.

She told The National she had been given a commitment by the Scottish Government that all potential methods and solutions would be fully researched.

“Many women and girls, for a variety of reasons, simply do not have access to sanitary products,” Martin said.

“Poverty is the main reason certain women and girls cannot access period products but there are other barriers like domestic abuse and coercive control where a woman may not have access to her own money, or is stopped from accessing the products she needs.

“Personally I think access to period products is a basic right and I would like to see how we can achieve that in Scotland with the powers and levers we have.

“This not just a health issue. It’s an issue that affects the attainment and education of young girls living in families struggling to get by.

"Many girls will miss school every month because they have no access to products, and that’s unacceptable to me.

“I’m pleased to report that my meeting with the cabinet secretary was very constructive and she is actively investigating solutions and exploring options.

“An S-Card would allow girls and women, who without it would not have regular access to sanitary products, the chance to go to supermarkets, or chemists and GPs without any fear or shame.”

The news was welcomed by Engender’s executive director Emma Ritch.

“We’re pleased to see progress happening in Scotland to investigate and tackle period poverty, following dedicated cross-party work from Labour’s Monica Lennon and the SNP’s Gillian Martin. Menstrual hygiene products are not cheap and demand for such products from food banks tells us that many women and girls are struggling to access them.

“International work tells us that an insufficiency of menstrual hygiene products can stop girls going to school, breaches the dignity and rights of female prisoners, and causes profound additional health challenges to homeless women.”

Public health minister Aileen Campbell added: “I am keen to explore what more can be done to tackle the issue of access to sanitary products, within the limitations of the current powers of the Scottish Parliament, to help improve the lives of girls and women in our country.”