Scotland has become the first country in the world to make period products free for all after “groundbreaking” legislation was unanimously passed by politicians. A draft bill received initial approval in Scotland’s parliament in February, and the measure was officially passed with lawmakers voting unanimously in its favor.

There is now a legal duty on local authorities to ensure that free items such as tampons and sanitary pads are available to “anyone who needs them”.

Two years ago, Scotland made history when it began providing free sanitary products to students at schools, colleges and universities through a government program. Wales and England followed last year with similar programs that provide free sanitary products in schools. The new law in Scotland builds on the earlier measure, with the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill making it a legal right.

The bill was introduced by Labour Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) Monica Lennon. She has been campaigning to end period poverty since 2016 and said ahead of the vote: “In these dark times, we can bring light and hope to the world.”

Writing on Twitter, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “proud to vote for this groundbreaking legislation”. Scotland’s Communities Secretary Aileen Campbell hailed the passing of the legislation as a “significant moment for gender equality”.

“This legislation will do much to advance equality and social justice here in Scotland and elsewhere, as other countries seek to follow our path,” Campbell said.

Globally, a minimum of 500 million people who menstruate experience period poverty every month, according to the Borgen Project. The biggest issue is the high cost of products. Despite being a necessity for half the global population, period products are perceived as a luxury when it comes to value-added tax (VAT).

The highest tax rate on menstrual products is seen in Hungary with VAT of 27 percent, followed by Sweden with 25 percent and Mexico with 16 percent. A number of countries have lowered or scrapped taxes on period products – including a dozen states in the U.S. and countries including Kenya, Canada, Australia, India, Malaysia, Jamaica, Nigeria, Lebanon, and Trinidad and Tobago.

In March, Britain’s chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that the so-called “tampon tax” would be scrapped in the U.K. from January 2021. The announcement came after years of campaigning.

Under EU laws, tampons and sanitary towels are classed as luxury items as opposed to essentials which means member states cannot reduce the tax rate below five percent. In 2019, Germany reduced the tax on sanitary products from 19 percent – the same luxury bracket as caviar.

As Britain has left the EU, the tax can be dropped at the end of the transition period on January 1. The change will save on average £40 in a lifetime, thanks to a 7p reduction on a pack of 20 tampons and a 5p reduction on a pack of 12 pads.

But it’s not just the cost of products that make menstruation so difficult, stigma makes purchasing products almost impossible for some, and transgender people in particular face difficulties in accessing sanitary products. Plan International U.K., a global children’s charity, published a study that showed the COVID pandemic has made the issue of period poverty worse this year.

It found that almost a third of girls and women aged 14 to 21 had issues either affording or accessing sanitary products in lockdown. While schools across Britain have provided period products for free since last year, the closing of schools and youth centers during the pandemic left many without the necessary supplies, the group said.

Over half of those surveyed said they had used toilet paper as an alternative to period products, with one in five girls saying their periods had been harder to manage due to a lack of toilet roll available. Researchers found that 71 percent felt embarrassed buying period products.

Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, said: “In making this world-first commitment, the Scottish government has shown itself to be a pioneer in tackling period poverty, and we hope that nations around the world will follow its lead.

“With this landmark legislation, Scotland could soon become the first country in the world to eliminate period poverty once and for all, and with household finances under strain from the coronavirus restrictions, the need has never been greater. This new law will help to ensure that no girl or woman in Scotland struggles to afford period products.”

She also said that the rollout of the legislation would be “critical” in how it works. “Period poverty is driven by a ‘toxic trio’ of issues, which on top of the cost of period products, includes a lack of education and the stigma and shame surrounding menstruation,” she said.

“That’s why, alongside free products, we need education and training for girls, schools and parents to help tackle the stigma and embarrassment around periods as well as the cost.”