IT’S good to see periods in the headlines. And it’s great that the Scottish Government has responded to campaigns by people like Gillian Martin MSP, Monica Lennon MSP, Women for Independence, other women’s groups and voluntary-sector organisations and announced a pilot project to provide free period products to girls and women in need. Scotland is the first country in the world to do this.

It’s high time this issue was treated with the seriousness it deserves. When the Scottish Socialist Party proposed universal free provision of period products in its 2003 manifesto, many people — including even some of the party’s own candidates — warned it would lead to public ridicule.

Seeing Angela Constance, a Government minister, talking about it on TV is a big change from the days when periods were only ever discussed in hushed whispers between women. I remember when I got my first period, aged 11. I was so embarrassed I got my pal to tell my mum. I had no idea then that my embarrassment derived from the fact that I was born into a world that stigmatises the female functions that humanity depends upon to survive.

Even today, in some parts of the world women and girls are shunned when they are menstruating.

In rural Nepal, for four to seven days a month they are banished to “menstrual huts” – often shared with cattle – under the superstitious “chhaupadi” which insists that women are “unclean” during their periods. The very blood of life is feared and deemed “polluting”. This sense of disgust towards menstruating women is rooted in the persistent and entrenched misogyny of a world where women are, to varying degrees, treated as inferior to men.

When I started my periods, the corner shop was still selling big Dr Whites towels with loops on the ends. I had no idea what to do with them. They made you look like you had a nappy on. And they were rubbish at the job – leaks and spotting were monthly occurrences. Believe me, you do not want to be at school in the Gorbals with bright red staining on your trousers.

This was all bad enough. But add poverty to the mix and the indignity multiplies a hundred-fold. There were countless times when my mum literally did not have a penny in her purse. But periods don’t wait for the child benefit to be paid in. Like a multitude of women and girls, I was forced on many occasions to use rolled up toilet paper, cut up nappies or dish towels — and sometimes even newspapers — to prevent blood running down my legs.

For too many years I saw this as my shame — and not the shame of a society that causes girls and women to go without basic products they need for health and dignity. Incredibly, towels and tampons are still classed as “non-essential luxury items”, and subject to VAT.

Across the world, girls miss school and women lose days at work because they don’t have access to period products. Unicef estimates that 10 per cent of girls in Africa don’t go to school during their period. In Bangladesh, one study showed that 73 per cent of women lose six days at work, and six days pay,every single month.

Even here in Scotland and across the UK, a lot of girls have to stay away from school during their periods. And many women and girls, forced to use reusable cloths that they cannot wash properly, end up with infections.

Nowadays, a packet of 40 decent tampons will cost you £6. That’s one-twelfth of the weekly rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance for over-25s. One of the most shocking scenes in Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake was when one of the main characters, Katie, a single parent sanctioned by the DWP, is caught stealing tampons. She was completely skint. Do we want to live in a country where women have to choose between eating or being able to go out? Unfortunately, the reaction to the Scottish Government’s announcement of the pilot scheme still attracted some derision in the comments section of the newspapers. A couple of guys wanted “free bog roll” and one demanded free haemorrhoid cream – clearly forgetting that he can get it free on prescription in Scotland already.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if these blokes could actually experience having a period every month for 40-plus years?

The Scottish pilot project is trail-blazing. But I hope it’s only the start. Women and girls shouldn’t have to ask for charity, or prove they are poor, to obtain items that are essential for their health, their dignity and their ability to participate in society as equal human beings. That’s why I support Monica Lennon, a Labour MSP, in her bid, via a member’s bill, to introduce universal free provision of period products to all women, regardless of income. That would bring women’s period products into line with Scotland’s free prescriptions system – a policy so popular with the public that even the Scottish Tories felt compelled to ditch their long-standing hostility towards it during the recent General Election campaign.

The period product industry makes £183 million a year in the UK from the essential bodily functions of women. Men and society as a whole benefit from women’s ability to procreate. We don’t choose our biology. Period products are not something women and girls can take or leave. Society as a whole should take responsibility and share the costs of being female. For the health, equality and dignity of all women and girls, access to period products should be a right – not a luxury.