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Menstrual Hygiene Management and Agenda-Setting Theory: A case study of the ‘Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill (2019)’


Academic year: 2021

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Menstrual Hygiene Management and Agenda-Setting Theory:

A case study of the ‘Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill (2019)’

Zoë Quinney Smith

Human Rights Bachelor of Arts 15 Credits

Spring Semester, 2020 Supervisor: Jon Wittrock



Suitable Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is necessary for the full enjoyment of human rights. In 2019, Scotland made history as the first country to take such a hands on approach to ensuring MHM, when it placed the ‘Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill (2019)’ on its political agenda. The bill aims to provide free period products to all those who need, across the whole of Scotland. It also aims to combat the stigma that currently dominates menstruation discourses. This thesis takes a targeted approach and investigates the bill from the perspective of Agenda-Setting Theories to start the process of understanding how this issue gained a place on the Scottish political agenda. Specifically, it employs a discourse analysis to examine how the issue was defined in the bill at hand, in order to highlight key signs that might have impacted its success. The thesis finds that the bill makes an important connection between MHM and the social struggles for gender equality and socioeconomic equality which has the effect of increasing the social significance of the issue. Additionally the bill is found to situate itself within the framework of international human rights norms which has a legitimizing effect on its claim.

Key words: Menstrual Hygiene Management, Stigma, Agenda-Setting Theory, Period Poverty, Scotland.





1.1. Background ... 5

1.1.1. The Bill ... 5

1.1.2. Menstrual Hygiene Management as an Issue ... 6

1.1.3. Political Engagement with Menstrual Hygiene Management in Scotland ... 7

1.1.4. Concluding Remarks ... 7

1.2. Intent ... 8

1.3. Research Question ... 9

1.3.1. Sub Questions ... 9

1.4. Relevance to Human Rights ... 9

1.5. Materials ... 10

1.5.1. Data Collection and Selection ... 10

1.6. Previous Research ... 11

1.6.1. Agenda-Setting Theory ... 11

1.6.2. Menstruation and Agenda-Setting Theory ... 12

1.6.3. Menstruation in Politics ... 12

1.6.4. Menstruation in Scotland ... 13

1.6.5. Concluding observations ... 13

1.7. Selection and Limitations ... 14

1.7.1. Selection ... 14

1.7.2. Limitations ... 14

2. THEORY ... 15

2.1. Definition of the Terms ... 15

2.2. Agenda-Setting Theory ... 16

2.2.1. AST as Implicated in this Thesis ... 16

2.2.2. Issue Definition ... 17

2.3. The Power of Discursive Practice ... 19

2.4. Concluding observations on the Theory ... 19

3. METHOD ... 20

3.1. Discourse Analysis Theory ... 20

3.1.1. Discourse Theory as a Method ... 22

3.2. Research design. ... 23


4. ANALYSIS ... 24

4.1. Introduction ... 24

4.2. Cobb & Elder’s 5 Categories of issue definition ... 25

4.2.1. The degree of specificity ... 26

4.2.2. The scope of social significance. ... 27

4.2.3. The extent of temporal relevance ... 28

4.2.4. The degree of complexity ... 30

4.2.5. The degree of categorical precedence ... 31

4.3. Influential language ... 32

4.4. Conclusion to the Analysis ... 33

5. CONCLUSION ... 35

5.1. Discussion ... 35

5.2. Possible objections ... 37

5.3. Further research ... 37



AST - Agenda Setting Theory

CFINE - Community Food Initiatives North East

CRC - Convention on the Rights of the Child

DRC - Declaration of the Rights of the Child

ECHR - European Convention of Human Rights

EIS - Educational Institute for Scotland

HR - Human Rights

ICCPR - International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

ICESCR - International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

MHM - Menstrual Hygiene Management

MP - Member of Parliament

MSP - Member of Scottish Parliament

MSYP - Member of Scottish Youth Parliament

PM - Policy Memorandum

SNP - Scottish Nationalist Party

SPICe - Scottish Parliament Information Center



This section of the thesis provides an overview of the topic area of research which includes: the contextual setting for the thesis, the aim of the thesis, the research questions, the relevance this research has to the study of human rights, the material selection, and previous research. It concludes with considerations regarding the selection and limitations of the case at hand.

1.1. Background 1.1.1. The Bill

On the 23rd of April 2019, MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament), Monica Lennon introduced the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill (2019) to the Scottish Parliament (from here on referred to as ‘the bill’). The bill consists of three parts: ‘The general rights to and supply of free period products’, ‘provision for pupils, students and others’ and ‘general’ information (SP Bill 45, 2019). The bill’s aim is to procure free sanitary products for all those in need throughout Scotland and it requires Scottish ministers to regulate for a ‘period products scheme’ to do so (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1 §§ 1.1 , 2.1). The process of obtaining the products must be ‘cost-free and reasonably easy’ as well as affording ‘reasonable privacy’ (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.2 § 3.2.b). It explicitly requires period products to be available in schools, universities and colleges to combat the negative effects that menstruation can have on education and states that Scottish ministers can endow similar duties on different public service bodies as well (SP Bill 45, 2019: p. 3 § 5.1 & Murdoch & McTaggart for SPICe, 2019: p.4). Additionally, the bill aims at combatting the stigma surrounding menstruation (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.14 § 88).

The draft proposal for the bill was delivered in accordance with chapter 9, rule 9.14 of the Scottish parliamentary standing orders with the required complimentary documents on the 11th of August 2017 (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, 2019). Consultations took place late 2017 and gained the necessary support of MSPs from all political parties to progress to the next stage of being introduced for examination in the Scottish Parliament (in this case 51 in total from a necessary 18). In the consultation process, 96% of respondents were in favor of the ‘general principle’ therein showing great public support for the scheme (Murdoch & McTaggart


by the relevant government bodies then by the MSP leading the bill proposal, it then goes to a vote in the Scottish parliament. At least a quarter of MSPs must vote, and there must be a majority that vote in favor, for the bill to be transformed into an ‘act’ enshrined in law, after receiving royal assent (The Scottish Parliament website (a)).

1.1.2. Menstrual Hygiene Management as an Issue

The biological process of menstruation affects the vast majority of women and girls as well as certain Trans people, throughout their reproductive ages, approximately once monthly. There are a number of necessary products needed to adequately manage this process, which will differ from person to person. Despite the innate nature of this process, it continues to be tied to many human rights violations around the world through inter alia, negative cultural traditions or its exacerbating effect on gender inequality and poverty (UNFPA, 2019).

To gain a deeper understanding of the situation in Scotland, although it does not share the same extreme attitudes or customs regarding menstruation that are found in other parts of the world, there does exist the same taboo nature surrounding the topic which leaves stigma and shame around this natural process. In 2017, UK wide research suggested that 37% of women feel uncomfortable discussing menstruation with a male counterpart, the number jumps to 47% when discussing with a father (ActionAid, 2017). The stigmatized nature of this topic is most likely a causal factor in the lack of discussion on the topic which is perhaps why the negative impact of poverty on those who menstruate, has gone unspoken until recently. According to data from 2016-19, at least 19% of the Scottish population live in relative poverty after housing costs (Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, 2020). Living in poverty means that many women, girls and members of the Trans community lack the means to adequately deal with menstruation. Research undertaken in 2017 across the UK (of which Scotland forms part of) demonstrated that among girls: 15% had struggled to purchase sanitary wear; 10% had not been able to; and 19% had swapped to a product less suitable for cost reasons (Plan international UK, 2017). Not only is it ‘recognized that period poverty can have a detrimental effect on the health and wellbeing of women, girls and trans people’, the impact of being unable to access the necessary products for Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) is also linked to them missing education and work which is detrimental to macro goals of gender equality (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.2 § 8). Thus, within Scotland, one notes that trouble accessing menstrual products leads to a plethora of barriers for women and girls relating to the full enjoyment of their human rights.


1.1.3. Political Engagement with Menstrual Hygiene Management in Scotland

The Scottish government has been working on the topic of MHM since 2016, when MSP Monica Lennon tabled the first debate on period poverty in the Scottish parliament where she hoped to ‘help to raise awareness on the financial and health inequalities’ linked with menstruation. This debate acknowledged the financial ‘burden’ of MHM and the fact that adequate ‘products are a necessity to maintaining good health’. It also recognized the ‘shame and embarrassment’ that surrounds the topic in Scotland (Official Report of the Scottish Parliament, 2016: Hour; 5.06). Prior to this, related government action included Scottish MPs involvement in a UK parliamentary discussion following an online petition to abolish the VAT on sanitary products from earlier in 2016 - an issue SNP had also pledged to abolish in their 2015 manifesto (SNP Website). Later, in 2017-18 a 6 month pilot scheme administered by the FareShare charity and funded by the Scottish government provided free sanitary products to all in need within the Aberdeen area. Subsequently, the program was awarded £500,000 by the Scottish government to be rolled out across Scotland in partnership with additional organizations: CFINE, Move On, Transform and the Cyrenians (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.5 §§ 25, 26). After bill was proposed, in August of 2018 the Scottish government pledged another £5.2m to make period products available to ‘school pupils, college students and university students’ and an additional £4 million to allow local authorities to widen the target audience (Scottish Government, 2018 & Scottish Government, 2019).

1.1.4. Concluding Remarks

One observes a potential gap in research as it is a relatively new topic on the political agenda and we are early on in the transformation of the discourse on MHM, and menstruation in itself. There appears to be a shift to a topic that is open and seen as the shameless biological process that it is, rather than a taboo topic where stigma has left many ignorant to the reality. By selecting the research area of MHM this thesis also challenges this stigma and taboo which works to subvert that negative discursive framing.

The bill merits attention as, if enacted into law, it will be the first act of its kind to encompass such a nationwide, hands on approach to tackle menstruation-related inequalities. The state of


This bill is a powerful tool in the struggle to affix meaning to the signs within the discourse on MHM. As our social world is formed by our contingent discourses, this could have a positive consequential impact on the full enjoyment of human rights. Examination of the bill can play a role in strengthening this discourse in Scotland, helping to shed the stigma which has negative human rights impacts.

Finally, research on the bill that gains a more in-depth understanding of the process regarding how this issue reached the political agenda could also provide insight for potential replication of this approach by shedding light on powerful signs within this discourse. This could demonstrate how these issues can be combated at state level which could potentially be employed by other relevant political actors searching to alleviate problems of period poverty, among other menstruation related issues, across the globe (see chapter 1.7 for limitations regarding generalization).

1.2. Intent

As demonstrated, the contemporary yet ingrained nature of the issue of MHM leaves much room and necessity for research on the topic. With such a large research gap regarding the bill however, it is important to keep the aim of the thesis concise and realistic for the allotted time and resources. Therefore, in order to garner valuable and in-depth knowledge, this thesis aims to take a targeted approach at one area: The process through which this issue achieved political agenda status. More specifically, this thesis follows the theoretical outlook of Agenda Setting Theory (AST) where research demonstrates the crucial nature of correctly framing an issue for it to successfully arrive on the political agenda. In the case at hand, the bill reached the political agenda with overwhelming support across political parties and among relevant actors which makes the successful framing of the issue topic of MHM very relevant to analyze (Murdoch & McTaggart for SPICe, 2019: p.3).

To do this, this thesis aims to demonstrate the different signs and their framings which compose the discourse on MHM found in the bill proposal, which includes the complimentary sources. Through the process of research, one begins to map the struggle to affix new meanings to the concepts within the discourse of MHM. This will allow this thesis to fulfil its second intention to shed light on a country that is positively and openly dealing with a highly stigmatized issue that negatively affects human rights around the globe. As mentioned in chapter 1.1.4, this could highlight potential ways in which political actors in other countries may follow suit in


demanding change and this thesis aims to support this generalization through the employment of AST.

1.3. Research Question

Following the expressed aim of this thesis, the research question will be:

“How was the issue of Menstrual Hygiene Management framed in the attempt to gain a place on the political agenda for the ‘Period products (free provision) Scotland bill (2019)’?”

1.3.1. Sub Questions

The sub questions come from the work of Jørgensen and Phillips (2002) who discuss the implementation of the theory of discourse analysis which is the selected method, discussed in chapter 3. They highlight these questions to direct the analysis in an appropriate manner:  “What discourse or discourses does [this] specific articulation draw on, what discourses

does it reproduce?”

 “‘[D]oes it challenge and transform an existing discourse by redefining some of its moments?”

(Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.29-30).

1.4. Relevance to Human Rights

This thesis is relevant to the study of human rights for many reasons. To start, this thesis contributes to opening and legitimizing the discussion on the topic of MHM and menstruation in itself which is beneficial in counteracting the prevailing taboo that impacts the full enjoyment of certain human rights. For example, the right to non-discrimination and gender equality is seen to be undermined by the taboo and stigmatized nature of the topic as it acts to ‘reinforce discriminatory practices’. This leads to a plethora of additional human rights issues, in extreme cases, loss of life (UNFPA, 2019). Additionally, certain work place discrimination is seen to be the result of ‘menstruation taboos’ (UNFPA, 2019).


by the same conditions as well as the stigma that stops some people searching for treatment for issues relating to menstruation. The right to education is relevant as without effective means of dealing with a period, girls are obliged to miss school. The right to work also comes into play for these reasons and the unequal working conditions women and girls deal with. They may be forced to ‘forgo working hours and wages’ and deal with issues such as ‘penalized’ bathroom breaks (UNFPA, 2019). They are impacted by this thesis in the sense that it takes the first step in understand the process of legislating on this issue and highlights important discursive steps to take which could offer assistance for actors wishing to impact a similar change in additional countries. Additionally, in such an under researched field with such major implications on human rights, discussion in the topic could help gain traction and promote further research and more open conversation.

Finally, as the bill is not yet passed through all stages, research on the topic, especially as it connects to infringements on human rights could further emphasize the crucial nature of this bill to the relevant Scottish decision makers.

1.5. Materials

This section provides an explanation of the materials that will be implicated in the analysis in chapter 4 of this thesis, the majority of which are primary sources. It is beneficial to employ primary data in this analysis so as to observe the original issue definition. Secondary data can bare traces of previous researcher bias in its interpretation whereas primary data provides a more reliable source (Walliman, 2018: p.77).

1.5.1. Data Collection and Selection

The core resources are constituted of primary material which this thesis will analyze itself. Secondary sources are occasionally implemented to provide support to certain arguments. The selection of the material has been done systematically to include all sources submitted with the with the bill proposition in order to gain a holistic framing of the issue. Specifically, the material includes:

 Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill [As introduced]  Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill Policy Memorandum  Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill Explanatory Notes  Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill Financial Memorandum


Additional sources include, Laclau and Mouffe’s, hegemony and socialist strategy (1985), particularly as presented by Jørgensen and Phillips (2002), which is implicated to guide the analysis. Similarly AST research, primarily Cobb & Elder (1983), provide a framework to characterize the nature of issue definition and Litfin (1994) is employed to support linguistic claims.

1.6. Previous Research

This section will consider previous research on the topic to map the gaps and contextualize this thesis within existing research. For this, search engines Libris, Libsearch, google scholar and Jstor and SAGE Journals were used with different combinations of keywords: Period product, political agenda, policy process, menstruation, menarche, agenda-setting theory, agenda building, issue definition, sanitary products, menstrual hygiene, Scotland and Scottish Parliament as well as New York.

1.6.1. Agenda-Setting Theory

This thesis is situated within the field of AST. Previous research here highlights the different areas that are important to consider when tracing an issue’s path in the agenda building process. The field of AST has expanded in many directions since its beginnings in the classical AST notions of media impact on the public agenda and time lag considerations (see: McCombs & Shaw, 1972 & Stone & McCombs, 1981). Now, within the field many scholars also examine aspects that affect the process of setting the political agenda too. Previous research highlights a plethora of theoretical concepts regarding this process, including inter alia: The classical notion of the media impact (Bonafont & Baumgartner, 2013 and Boydstun, 2013); political actors (leaders, bureaucrats, specialists, lobbyists and interest groups) and their characteristics and distinct powers (Kingdon 1995); policy learning and belief systems (Sabatier, 1993); scientific/specialized knowledge (Haas 1992); causal ideas (Stone, 1989); strategic use of language and symbols (Litfin 1994) and finally; issue definition and development (Cobb & Elder, 1983 and Baumgartner & Jones, 1993). Importantly, Oakley (2009) observes that certain issues might arrive on the political agenda through distinct process. So, previous research on AST will be selected conscientiously and critically with this in mind.


1.6.2. Menstruation and Agenda-Setting Theory

Regarding menstruation and the agenda building process, this thesis only encountered one article that discussed this topic with a degree of relevance. This included consideration of how MHM arrived on the public agenda, defined as a ‘public health issue’. This thesis examines the ‘various moments, events, players, and organizations that have contributed to the definition of menstruation as a globally recognized public health challenge’ (Sommer, Hirsch, Nathanson et al., 2015: No page). These authors believe that a core factor that pushed this issue forward was a desire to close the ‘gender gap in education’ and that it gained traction as an issue of ‘social justice within the context of public health’. Importantly, these authors observe the importance of how this issue was framed at the different steps due to the taboo that dominates the topic in many countries. Tactics have differed here with some actors constructing messages in a way that takes into account cultural opinions on the topic while others have taken a more direct approach and openly discuss aspects such as menstrual blood to tackle the taboo (Sommer, Hirsch, Nathanson et al., 2015: No page). Finally, they note that a better comprehension of each framing of MHM, and ‘the role that such framings play in building a growing global social movement on MHM’ offer beneficial insight for future actors working on this issue and others of a similar health and taboo nature (Sommer, Hirsch, Nathanson et al., 2015: No page). The aspect of this research that highlights the stigma, secrecy and taboo that surrounds the topic in many high and low income countries and the impact this has on keeping the topic off the public agenda is particularly interesting. The paper demonstrates that there were a number of public and private actors that had an impact in promoting open discussion and getting this issue on to the public agenda.

1.6.3. Menstruation in Politics

As noted, this bill if passed will be the first of its kind to take a nationwide approach to combat issues arising from poor MHM by providing free sanitary products to all those who need across Scotland. Unsurprisingly, this means that academic research on the topic is not available. Likewise for New York’s situation and regarding free provision of sanitary products by the state in general. What is more surprising however, is the scarcity of academic research that deals with the topic of menstruation within politics. Other than articles discussing issues of ‘tampon tax’, one is hard pushed to encounter research that discusses any political considerations on the topic of the menarche or menstruation. This could of course, be due to the topic rarely entering the realm of political debates. As mentioned, in Scotland the first real


consideration of MHM as a legitimate topic for discussion in itself was in 2016 (Official Report of the Scottish Parliament, 2016: Hour; 5.06).

Importantly, the research discussing taxation tends to include consideration of menstrual inequity or using it to show how deeply ‘embedded’ gender inequality is, even in a supposedly ‘neutral’ tax system (for example: Crawford & Spivak, 2017). While papers such as these are beneficial to setting the scene for a need to increase discussion and awareness on the topic they are not relevant to the issue at hand of how menstruation becomes an issue that is discussed on the political agenda.

1.6.4. Menstruation in Scotland

Within Scotland specifically there is little research on the matter. The paper of Moffat and Pickering (2019) demonstrate the real impacts of the stigma and taboo on the topic which will likely play a role in the analysis of this thesis. They discuss the exclusion of women’s MHM from the public sphere and far into the private and comment on the ‘double burden’ of menstruation within Scotland. This is found to be caused by the notion that within menstrual etiquette the need to maintain secrecy around ones menstruation cycle dominates because of pressure to keep menstruation ‘invisible’. When technologies such as sanitary bin or product dispenser are absent or out of order, women observe a second burden of having to maintain the invisibility without the support of ‘social infrastructure’, they should also not bring any attention to this problem. The paper also attempts to combat the discursive silence, to alleviate this problem (Moffat & Pickering, 2019: No page).

1.6.5. Concluding observations

One observes a large gap in research on the topic of menstruation within the theoretical framework of AST. This thesis take a targeted approach at one specific aspect of this gap so as to garner the most valuable and insightful results with the allotted time and resources. Additionally, the taboo nature of the topic arose in most, if not all research articles so will likely feature in this research too.


1.7. Selection and Limitations 1.7.1. Selection

As one notes above, there is a large research gap that this thesis responds to. Therefore, it places a number of delimitations on itself in order to carry out targeted and in-depth research on one aspect of this scarcely researched topic. These delimitations include the decision to only consider one aspect of AST – the issue definition and the role this plays within the agenda building process. This will provide a specific starting point for further research on the remaining AST areas and the thesis remains mindful throughout that this is one consideration of many.

As the bill started as a private ‘member’s bill’ proposition, there is a degree of ambiguity as to when it reaches the political agenda. This thesis assumes this moment to be the moment the bill proposal was approved to be submitted for consideration by MSPs across all political parties as before, while it was an MSP who drafted it, it was a private, not party political bill (The Scottish Parliament Website (b)). For this reason, the resources implemented in the analysis will be limited to the original document of the bill and those submitted in conjunction, as these demonstrate the final framing of the issue that lead to a place on the political agenda. As touched upon in the previous research, a number of public and private actors play a role in creating the issue definition. This would also be interesting to examine however, with the limitations on this thesis of time and space this will be left to future research. Limiting the resources is beneficial to keep the focus of the research on the bill at hand.

Finally, within this thesis any reference to those who menstruate refers to girls, women and members of the Trans community who still present with female biology. If commenting on the work of others it will use their selected terminology to ensure an accurate representation of their arguments.

1.7.2. Limitations

There exist also certain external limitations on the research. First, the practical consideration of limited time, resources and word count are important to bear in mind. As noted, the research must thus be targeted and niche so as to provide valuable results within this frame.

Second, as Scotland is part of the UK, certain figures and research on the problem take a UK wide approach which due to Scotland’s smaller population size, might not be representative. These are highlighted as UK sources and attempts to counteract this are made by complimenting


them with Scotland specific information on poverty levels and issues of MHM to achieve clarity on the topic.

It is important to bear in mind that discourses on a topic can change in time and space as we are controlled by involvement in our contingent discourses, which may differ around the world. Therefore the discourse analysis that will be carried out as method, could garner results that are not relevant in certain cultural contexts. The use of symbols and imagery may translate differently so the results should thus be considered contextually relevant where the highlighted discourses exist. Other cultures may have to find distinct symbolisms to influence the discourse and shape the issue of MHM. In the case of Scotland, this would likely not impact the ability to infer similarities within the rest of the UK. Depending on which signs are found within the discourse potentially additional, although likely ‘western’, countries too.

Finally, it is important to note that the bill has, as of yet, not passed through all the necessary stages to be formed into legislation. Although this is not a limitation for this research specifically as the bill did succeed in gaining a place on the political agenda, one should bear this in mind as it will be interesting to see the success, or lack of, for this bill as well as how the affixation of meaning to the signs in the discourse may change in the next stage of its process where members may make amendments.


This chapter will lay out the theoretical underpinnings that guide this thesis. It starts with a definition of certain terms used throughout the thesis to demonstrate how they are understood and employed herein. It then introduces the field of AST and demonstrates its relevance before specifying which aspects are of particular interest to this thesis and why. After, it demonstrates the power in discursive practices which further demonstrates the importance of such research before closing with some concluding remarks on the theory.

2.1. Definition of the Terms

 The issue – Refers to the topic of MHM as it appeared in the bill and complimentary sources.


 Political actors – Refers to a range of actors implicated in politics in some manner including inter alia: Political leaders, bureaucrats, specialists, lobbyists and interest groups.

 Agenda – This term has many meanings, in the political sense, Kingdon (1995) defines it clearly as ‘the list of subjects or problems to which government officials, and people outside of government closely associated with those officials, are paying some serious attention at any given time’ (Kingdon, 1995: p.3).

 Period poverty – This refers to the economic burden placed upon women, girls and Trans people due to the cost of MHM. Particularly as it affects those of a low socioeconomic status (UNFPA, 2019). It includes considerations of the resulting exacerbation of existing vulnerabilities as well as long term effects on gender inequality and health and wellbeing due to those who menstruate having to skip school or work in the absence of necessary products (UNFPA, 2019).

2.2. Agenda-Setting Theory

Agenda building is a key stage in the policy process and as such, is crucial to study in order to better understand why certain issues are successful in initiating government action, while others do not attain their goal. AST offers an insightful lense through which to examine this process with different theorists emphasizing different considerations. The agenda building stage is particularly important to understand regarding the bill as, insight here could highlight important considerations for future (political) actors interested in activating similar changes within their countries. This would be extremely beneficial as it has the potential to alleviate conditions which infringe on basic human rights. This section will now give an overview of AST as implemented in the current case as well as other theoretical considerations that underpin the research.

2.2.1. AST as Implicated in this Thesis

What is clear from the section of previous research on AST is that the agenda-setting process is a complex topic with issue status on the political agenda gained via a complex and elaborate process which relies on more than singular political decisions (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.12). Bearing in mind the restraints on this research project, this thesis takes a targeted approach to focus on one area with regards to the bill. This is done so as to achieve in-depth and valuable insight on the issue while, as mentioned, being mindful throughout that the previous


considerations may also impact this process. The specific focus will be how the issue of MHM has been framed i.e. the issue definition, which will include aspects strategic use of language and symbols to examine particularly powerful framings of the issue. This area is selected as it is the most beneficial starting point in this genre of research; it underpins the additional topics as arguably the first stage of the agenda-setting process. This is because, a comprehensive understanding of the issue definition then offers a base for future research into the remaining aspects such as, what genre of specialized knowledge will likely be implicated or belief systems that might be relevant and which political actors to look to for engagement in the process. Moreover, with restricted research capacities, this area of research is a good selection as it is possible to examine at a set point in time while many of the other areas require increased temporal considerations and follow the process from its believed starting point through to fruition. It is important to note here that within the area of issue definition there is also large bodies of work that consider the media and issue group framings of the issue to be an important tool in the agenda-setting process. This thesis takes the framing in the bill proposition to likely be the result of public awareness campaigns and a growing social movement on the issue topic however research constraints means this consideration will be left for future research.

2.2.2. Issue Definition

According to Cobb and Elder, ‘how an issue is defined (...) will have important bearing on the nature and eventual outcome of a conflict’ (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.96). Their work outlines five specific dimensions to issue definition that will impact the chances of an issue gaining political agenda status: First, the degree of specificity which refers to the abstract or concrete nature of the definition which can be measured based on the specific objectives and symbols enunciated therein. Second, the scope of social significance which regards whether this issue has a general impact or is relatively refined to the disputant group. Naturally, one with a greater impact will obtain a larger body of the population supporting it / pressuring for change. Third, the extent of temporal relevance discusses whether the issue has long-term, short-term or circumstantial impact. Here, if beyond the resolution of the issue at hand there will be additional ramifications such as at different levels of government or points in time, then this is a temporally relevant issue to consider. Fourth, the degree of complexity regards the differing outcomes of


involvement is used to translate complex language which can also manipulate the definition in a manner beneficial to one interest group. Measuring the complexity can be done by examining the number of actors involved in implementation of the issue resolution including necessary government bodies. Additionally, how many interested parties are involved in the decision and to what level participants understand the issue topic. Fifth and finally, the degree of categorical precedence relates to the level that this issue has been dealt with beforehand, which would leave clear precedence for its process, and hopefully resolution. This aspect plays an important role in predicting an issue’s place on the agenda and resolution, as it has a ‘stabilizing influence’ if one can apply already existing principles to the process as opposed to potentially creating new principles which would have lasting consequences. Measurement in this category include inter alia: The number of similar past cases and their resolution or lack thereof, extent of implementation and the level of information regarding precedent cases that is held by relevant decision makers (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.96-101).

Throughout the process of issue definition, opposing sides will attempt to define these categories of the issue according to their goals, definitions can also change as strategies switch, for example to garner a more emotional public connection to the issue (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.102). Regarding strategies in issue definition, Litfin (1994) provides an example and observes ‘the cultural role of science as a key source of legitimation’ and demonstrates that when discourse of an issue becomes (re)conceptualized in scientific terms ‘questions of value become refrained as questions of fact’ (Litfin, 1994: p.4). This thesis will question whether reference to human rights could play a similarly legitimizing role. Litfin additionally observes, in accordance with Cobb and Elder in their fourth category – the degree of complexity, how the facts are delicately selected and expressed into language (by ‘knowledge brokers’), is based on the interests of those who make this translation and their audience (Litfin, 1994: p.4). On a similar note, Stone (1989) highlights more strategic issue definition, showing how the definition of an issue is a ‘process of image making’, a purposeful manipulation and portrayal in order to gain political support (Stone, 1989: p.282). Similar to the work of Litfin Stone demonstrates how these ‘stories’ invoke ‘narrative story lines and symbolic devices to manipulate so-called issue characteristics’ meanwhile acting as though ‘they are simply describing fact’ (Stone, 1989: p.282).


2.3. The Power of Discursive Practice

Consideration of the power within discourse sheds light on the full importance of issue definition as an area of research. As illustrated by Michel Foucault (1978), discourses ‘exercise power over us’, they are a means of expressing and also constituting social realities in that they shape and also reflect the way that we perceive and experience our surroundings and the world (Jones et al., 2011: p.112 & Foucault 1978: p.81–102). The social life is constructed on discursive practices- a term Foucault used in reference to the connection ‘between thought, language, knowledge and action’ (Jones et al., 2011: p.112-113). Foucault notes that ‘discourse transmits and produces power’ so one must also note the power that brings the discourse to existence however, more relevant here is the resulting power exercised by the discourse itself in shaping the social world, as this supports the notion that framing an issue in a certain manner can have powerful consequences (Foucault 1978: p.101). The importance of creating a positive and open discourse on menstruation in general, but also regarding adequate means for its management is demonstrated in the knowledge that ‘(w)e are only able to know the truths provided for us by our discourses’. Openness surrounding the topic would decrease the negative impacts that result from its taboo and stigmatized nature (Jones, pip et al., 2011: p.113).

Finally, the notion that discourses are highly instrumental in shaping and (re)defining power relations is particularly interesting within a topic that has such an impact on gender (in)equality which remains structurally ingrained in many societies. Foucault notes that although power is often thought to be institutionalized in law or state bodies, i.e., it comes from ‘above’ in fact it is within the low level and micro situations of daily interactions where these relations are reconstructed (Foucault 1978: p.94-95). This gives hope to the prospects of such a bill and future bills of a similar nature.

2.4. Concluding observations on the Theory

The work of Cobb & Elder (1983) is selected as theory here as it relevantly develops a perspective that takes into account how the problem must be articulated in a manner that obliges the key decision makers to take action. This thesis is aware that there are alternative authors one could employ as theory however, Cobb & Elder are core to the area of issue definition and


follow distinct trajectories to the political agenda, these categories are sufficiently open to not force one AST process. They guide the analysis to highlight points in the specific MHM framing which is based on accepted considerations within AST of important general areas. The specific categories offer a valid means of examining the issue which will ensure increased reliability in the results. Operationalization of their five categories could be done using quantitative means with empirical measures to analyze each category however, this thesis will employ them qualitatively as it seeks to gain insight into the linguistic framing and incorporated discourses that will exert a level of power. Each category will be thus be examined through the discourse analysis, discussed in chapter 3, which means AST can be used to infer further impacts of the results.


In order to examine how the issue of MHM was framed in the ‘Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill (2019)’, a discourse analysis will be carried out. Discourse analysis is a method of interpretation regarding linguistic framing and its cultural ties, i.e. the “interpretive context in which the discourse is set” (Walliman, 2018: p.164). In more detail, it is a means of analysis that explores what happens when the shared knowledge connected to the meanings and symbols within language is drawn on (Johnstone, 2017: p.17). A specific discourse analysis is employed, namely: The Discourse Analysis Theory (hereinafter referred to as ‘discourse theory’) of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. This is found primarily in their work: Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) as well as certain individual works of the two. Based on their work and a presentation of the theory from Jørgensen and Phillips (2000). This section will now outline the key aspects of this theoretical method before discussing the methodological concepts that will be implemented in the analysis.

3.1. Discourse Analysis Theory

Discourse theory is a politically oriented, social constructionist approach to discourse analysis. It has its theoretical base in modified versions of both the tradition of Marxism with its insight on the social world, and structuralism in its theory of meaning (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.25). Discourse theory envisions the social as constructed by a discursive ‘web of processes’ where meaning is instilled. This construction is seen as a struggle to assign meaning by positioning signs in a discourse in relation to existing signs (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.25). Core to this approach is the notion that social phenomena are ever changing and never finished


thus, social struggles over meanings are inevitable and continuous as one cannot definitively affix a meaning (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.25). Similarly, Foucault notes that in the ‘world of discourse’ there is not one accepted and one denied discourse but rather ‘a multiplicity of discursive elements that can come into play in various strategies’ (Foucault, 1978: p.100).

There are a number of key concepts to this theory. ‘[W]e will call articulation any practice establishing a relation among elements such that their identity is modified as a result of the articulatory practice. The structured totality resulting from the articulatory practice, we will call discourse. The differential positions, insofar as they appear articulated within a discourse, we will call moments. By contrast, we will call element any difference that is not discursively articulated’ (Laclau & Mouffe 1985: p.105; italics in original). Thus, within discourse, meaning is assigned on a specific topic through articulation, which connects one sign to another sign, making a moment from an element. However due to the ever changing nature of social phenomena and resulting constant struggle to affix meaning, moments are ‘potentially polysemic’ thus always potential elements as well (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.29). The process of articulation is achieved by the ‘exclusion of all other possible meanings that the signs could have had’ to the field of discursivity - where all meanings previously or currently connected to a sign exist but which are excluded from the current discourse throughout the articulatory practice (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.27; Laclau & Mouffe, 1985: p.111). Some criticize the vagueness of the conceptual field of discursivity as it is not clear whether it is a complete unstructured field where one finds all potential meanings, or if there is a degree of structure and it comprises solely of competing discourses (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.27).

Nodal points are important as the core signs around which discourses revolve, meanings are affixed in relation to these. A chain of equivalence is what invest signs with meaning. Jørgensen and Philips give the example in medical discourse of the nodal point ‘the body’ which then gives meaning to signs such as ‘‘symptoms’, ‘tissue’ and ‘scalpel’’ (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.26, 50). Nodal points in themselves are ‘empty’ until incorporated into a discourse, which means that they can also be seen as elements (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.28). There also exist floating signifiers which are elements that ‘are particularly open to different ascriptions of meaning’. A nodal point is also a floating signifier although ‘nodal point’ describes the ‘point


and the competing discourse of alternative treatment, it is a floating signifier (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.28-29). Although the ‘transition from the “elements” to the “moments” is never entirely fulfilled’, closure describes the affixation of meaning through a discourse which gives temporary stability to the signs and their understood meaning (Laclau & Mouffe 1985: p.110 & Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.27-28).

The ‘logic of difference’ promotes alternative understandings which acts to disconnect the current meanings in the social (Dabirimehr & Fatmi, 2014: 1285). Here the concepts of social antagonism, hegemony and hegemonic interventions are important to understand which are relevant when investigating the early stages of discourse transformation, as will be shown to be the case in the example of the bill. Briefly, hegemony can be thought of as the ‘dominance of one particular perspective’ (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.7). A ‘social antagonism occurs when different identities mutually exclude each other’ and this ‘threatens to undermine’ those discourses that are implicated in constituting these identities. A hegemonic intervention is then an ‘articulation which by means of force reconstitutes unambiguity’ (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.48). This leaves alternative meaning ‘suppressed’ so one meaning can prevail (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.37).

3.1.1. Discourse Theory as a Method

Laclau and Mouffe see the work of a discourse analyst as chartering this effort to assign meaning to social phenomena (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.25-26). The fact that this bill is the first of its kind, despite the serious nature of the issue, suggests that we are in the early stages of this issues discoursive transformation so, mapping the construction process and change could provide insight to keeping this process moving. Additionally, mapping the change from an early stage will ensure maximum impact in case other countries can be influenced with the results. Implementing a discourse analysis will highlight the core signs in the case at hand and provides a core framing of the issue that then has the potential to provide a base understanding to be tested in future cases.

Discourse theory has been selected as a method due to its focus on this construction process which fits well with attempting to ascertain the framing of MHM. It fits the selected theoretical framework well to provide in-depth considerations of the issue definition in each category. The methodological emphasis in the analysis will be on highlighting ‘key signifiers’ to show which signs in the discourse hold the most privileged positions i.e., the nodal points (Jørgensen &


Phillips, 2002: p.50). Where relevant, these will be surrounded by a ‘cluster of signifiers’ however, distinction between other signs will be largely overlooked in order to provide an uncluttered and clear discussion which extracts the most important aspects of the text (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.39).

3.2. Research design

The present research seeks to understand the linguistic framing of the issue of MHM in the bill at hand. Therefor it takes the form of a descriptive case study which is good to ‘categorize’ and examine language which is relevant to the area of issue definition (Gerring, 2004: 347). It is a single case study which in itself impedes claims of generalization however, the findings can then be tested on future cases. The implementation of AST acts to make the generalizations in its theoretical framework. This case has been selected as it is an extreme case, it has unique characteristics: The bill it the first of its kind and the topic of MHM has not been researched within the field of AST so this can generate valuable knowledge. Moreover, the issue was accepted on to the political agenda with a large majority of political support which makes this case still more poignant to study from an AST perspective. The thesis is clear that the results of a single case study cannot however be simply generalized in themselves.

3.3. Concluding Methodological Considerations

This thesis carries out deductive research that uses AST framework to see what extent MHM framing fits into Cobb and Elders five categories. These categories provide a clear analytic framework and ensure the thesis measures what it claims to, but are very open, what will be found in the analysis within each section, is yet, unknown. The discourse analysis in itself is not restricted by the theory, it attempts to decipher the important signs and discourses which hold powerful position in the case at hand. This aspect takes a small inductive role, as it starts with the relevant data and builds up a theory based on this (Hammond & Wellington, 2013: p.10). This thesis conducts qualitative research as it interprets data in a linguistic and descriptive manner as opposed to quantitative and typically empirical material (Walliman, 2018: p.80).


could demonstrate which signs hold the most privileged position (Franzosi, 2008: no page). However, for mixed method research increased time and resources would be necessary.


As laid out in the introduction of this thesis, the bill proposal contains provisions for a “period product scheme” that would provide those in need across Scotland with free period products. This section will now present the analysis of this research wherein, a discourse analysis of the primary material will be carried out, based on the methodological considerations of chapter 3.1.. It will first provide an overall view of the bill with some important considerations before examining Cobb and Elders 5 categories of issue definition to highlight important aspects in the framing of this issue. In doing this it hopes to answer the research question of “How was the issue topic of menstrual hygiene management framed in the attempt to gain a place on political agenda for the ‘Period products (free provision) Scotland bill (2019)’?”

In this section ‘the bill’ refers not only to the bill proposition (as introduced) but also the complementary sources submitted with it, unless otherwise specified.

Nodal points of the bill will be marked in bold when the object of discussion and where relevant, other signs will be marked in italics for emphasis. This allows the reader to get an overall idea of the bills important concepts glance and will highlight core signs that could have played a role in gaining a role on the political agenda.

4.1. Introduction

As described in the introduction to this thesis, the bill aims to create a ‘period product scheme’ where all who need in Scotland will have the right to free provision of period products. In the terms of discourse theory, the bill can be seen in to promote the ‘logic of difference’ within the prevailing discourse of MHM as it attempts to dispel ambiguities on the taboo topic and disperse the stigma surrounding it by providing distinct and open connections between relevant signs. Through in-depth reading of the bill one observes an important chain of equivalence for this aim. The bill clearly articulates of the nodal points of menstruation and poverty together through the nodal point of period products. However this connection, while articulated within the bill, is typically un-identified due to the stigma that conventionally surrounds these signs. This acts to conceal the link between menstruation and poverty in obscuring variant meanings. Thus, the bill highlights a resulting chain of equivalence between menstruation and poverty


around the nodal point of stigma. This chain of equivalence is powerful as, in making this connection apparent the bill connects two social struggles, the feminist struggle against gender inequality with the class based struggle for socioeconomic inequality. The chain of equivalence then creates a unified project, which establishes a much broader coalition between these two struggles thus including more people and creating a stronger demand for justice.

Stigma itself is a complex sign within the text. It is of course a nodal point, as it is a core sign around which many signs are articulated however, it is relevant to the issue at hand to observe that this is done in a negative relationship. It is a relation that portrays the harmful result of the positioning of these signs in a discourse of stigma. The bill itself aims to create open conversation around menstruation and period poverty in order to rid their respective discourses of the stigma that has historically created hegemony in its relation to the topics (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.15; 95). Throughout the text, while period poverty appears to be the root cause of infringements on the full enjoyment of many human rights, stigma is demonstrated to be both an aggravating factor to this infringement and also the reason that this infringement is not immediately identified as relating to menstruation and poverty. The bill therefore makes the relation to stigma known and normalizes discussion on the topic, for example thorough the open articulation of menstruation in relation to signs such as ‘natural bodily function’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.19; 64). In this way, it is involved an antagonistic relationship with the currently prevailing discourse of stigma surrounding menstruation and period poverty as it tries ‘to define the same terrain in conflicting ways’ (Jørgensen & Phillips, 2002: p.190). The bill provides an articulation which intervenes in hopes of reshaping the current structures of meaning. Specifically, its aim is to ‘lead to a wider awareness of the issue of ‘period poverty’ and the social stigma attached to it as well as to menstruation’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.16 § 96).

4.2. Cobb & Elder’s 5 Categories of issue definition

These categories provide for the ‘characterization’ of an issue along ‘certain fundamental dimensions’ which will be very beneficial to provide a concise framing of the issue. The issue will be analyzed in each category with considerations of to which degree it fits. How an issue fits into these dimensions will affect how likely it is to arrive on the political agenda so they offer a valid means of guiding the analysis in order to highlight the key issue definitions that


4.2.1. The degree of specificity

The bill fits in the high end of the spectrum for this category as it can be seen to ‘define the issue as a list of specific items’ to be fulfilled (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.97). It provides who this right is afforded to, who bears the corresponding duty and what exactly is included in the right and how it could be exercised.

The rights holders will be ‘‘[e]veryone in Scotland who needs to use period products’. Specifically, the target group highlighted in the bill is ‘women, girls and trans people’ (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1 § 1 & SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.2 § 8). Additionally, the scheme applies ‘regardless of age, gender, income etc.’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.5 § 34). Regarding who bears the corresponding duty, there are a number of actors implicated. ‘Scottish ministers’ and ‘education providers’, including all schools, universities and colleges are the primary actors. The bill additionally provides Scottish ministers with the ability to oblige ‘councils’, ‘specified public facing bodies’ or ‘other specified persons’ (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1,3 §§ 2.1.a, 5.1). There is a degree of ambiguity here however the bill specifies that Scottish ministers must regulate this separately with prior consultation, so the issue definition within the bill is not highly impacted (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.3 § 6.3). The rights object is to obtain period products, ‘free of charge’ (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1 § 1.1). Period product has two articulations within the bill including a practical requirement to ‘absorb or collect menstrual flow’, as well as an overall articulation including signs such as ‘essential’, and ‘basic necessities’ which reaffirms the imperative nature of these products to ‘manage’ menstruation (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.4 § 10.1 & SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.2 § 7). The process of obtaining these products must be ‘cost-free and reasonably easy’ as well as affording reasonable ’privacy’ (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.2 §§ 3.2.b, 4.1). ‘Reasonable’ is not highly specific although, there are suggestions on how this can be handled to clarify. This right will be exercised through the “period products scheme” which must be created by Scottish Ministers to ‘regulate the right and facilitate its exercise’ (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1 § 2.1). For education establishments, the products should be available in ‘each appropriate toilet’ i.e., ‘every female, gender-neutral, and accessible toilet’, the same goes for specified public bodies (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.11 § 69 & SP Bill 45–EN, 2019: p.4 § 14). Additionally, there is a suggested operational strategy for the scheme in the form of a redeemable ‘voucher’ gained simply through personal identification (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.2 § 3). Period products could then be ‘collected’ in person or by proxy or where necessary, ‘delivered’ (if not necessary, this service should be paid for) (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.2 § 4.2).


Finally the bill also provides a detailed cost analysis which lays out clear, calculated projected costs for the program and consideration of each different body that will bear these costs (SP Bill 45 – FM, 2019).

To summarize, the bill provides very specific framework which ensure that there is a clear right to free period products and a specific corresponding duty. Additionally, it gives specific suggestions for a schematic regulation It is then up to Scottish ministers to regulate on how the specific scheme works within their constituencies (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1 § 2).

4.2.2. The scope of social significance

This category regards the ‘issue impact’ which relates to the ‘number of persons who will potentially be affected’ by it (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.97). The bill presents an issue that is extremely socially significant as it targets ‘women, girls and trans people’- a large portion of the Scottish population. Furthermore, one observes throughout the bill that there are implications for a much larger portion of society. The increased social significance is found within the bills discussion of period poverty.

Period poverty is the result of two factors, menstruation and poverty, which has negative consequences for the human rights of those affected. As noted, the bill refers to menstruation very openly with terms like ‘natural’ in order to counteract the stigma. Regarding poverty, the bill establishes this as a problem within Scotland through employing commonly accepted signs such as ‘recession’, ‘low income’ and notice that ‘food bank use in Scotland is rising’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.2, 5 §§ 6,7, 10, 25). These are all previously articulated signs that bare negative connotations regarding poverty levels thus signify gravity in this situation. Here, in placing period products in relation to signs such as ‘household budget’ the social significance of the issue increases by implying it impacts not only those who menstruate but their families as well.

Poverty is affirmed to also be a stigmatized topic as the bill notes that concern incase free products are ‘associated with low income’ as this could lead to increased ‘stigmatization’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.11 § 66).


inequalities. The result increases social significance as it combines two demands for equality, so is much wider reaching than just one claim would be.

4.2.3. The extent of temporal relevance

Within this category, an issue that will have ‘implications above and beyond the resolution of the particular issue’ in time and at different levels of government, is temporally relevant to be discussed (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.98).

The issue at hand then can be viewed as highly temporally relevant as it fulfils these two categories, almost in excess. First, it will have extremely long-lasting implications due to the fact that it attempts to legislate for the provision of period products- a never ending necessity, so the temporal implications are infinite. The only clear end to this issue would be if, for some reason there was a forced end of the “period product scheme”. Second, the bill implicates a number of political actors from different levels of government. As noted the bill places the primary responsibility on the executive branch of government in the hands of Scottish Ministers, they then have the power to impose a duty on other levels including on the local branches of government in the different councils (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1 § 2).

Cobb and Elder suggest two measures for this category. The first involves ‘perceptions of time necessary’ to implement the program (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.98). Here, the bill specifies that the provisions therein must be made available ‘not later than 12 months after Royal Assent’ although as mentioned, the duration of the program would be indefinite (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1 § 2.4).

The second measure is particularly important as it includes considerations of ‘what the real issue is in a particular conflict’ (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.98). Within the bill there are a number of underlying themes and considerations. These provide a more holistic view of the ‘real’ issue as one which intricately links proper MHM, with the full enjoyment of basic human rights. The implicated human rights are found in core reputable international documents, such as the ICCPR and ICESCR and include: Gender equality and non- discrimination, including as relates to sexual identity and the trans community, the right to work, the right to education, rights of people with disabilities and a plethora of children’s rights (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.12- 13 §§ 71-78 & ICCPR, 1966 & ICESCR, 1966). It also makes specific reference to its ‘compatible’ nature with the ECHR (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.13 § 78). The bill explains that at


its core, the issue concerns ‘(m)anaging menstruation safely’ for which one requires ‘appropriate period products which cannot normally be accessed without cost’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.12 § 72). When one is unable to afford this cost, the issue becomes a bigger problem with human rights implications.

Regarding the right to education, students with a low economic status and no means of purchasing ‘appropriate products’ themselves means they end up ‘missing’ school so not achieving ‘full attendance’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.3 § 14). Moreover, the ‘embarrassment many feel in discussing menstruation and period products [may] prevent them from accessing products’ where they otherwise may be able to get help (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.11 § 69). The bill responds to this situation clearly with its two aims: To provide period products and destigmatize the topic. Additionally, the bill affirms that ‘increased attendance levels could have a positive impact on attainment’, which is linked to overall goals for gender equality and of course, the right to education (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.3 § 15). Similarly, without ‘appropriate products’ those who menstruate are ‘unable’ to, or ‘feel they have no choice but to miss out’ on work and recreation which relates to short term and long term gender equality goals (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.2 § 8).

Finally, health and wellbeing are central concerns of the bill. It observes the impact on health and wellbeing when those who menstruate are unable to study, work and have recreational time. The more concrete impact here is when attempts to avoid missing education, work or recreation activities leads some people to use products ‘for longer periods of time than is recommended’ or use ‘unsuitable alternatives which ‘can lead to infections and health issues’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.2 § 8). Unsuitable alternatives are described as ‘socks, facecloths, and toilet paper, amongst other things’ (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.14 § 83). Additionally, the stigma that surrounds the topic is demonstrated to stop some people searching for treatment for ‘period-related health issues’ which leaves increased suffering (SP Bill 45-PM, 2019: p.2 § 9).

The connection to human rights is a particularly powerful aspect of issue definition. In making this connection, the issue is tied to universal norms. The connection then takes the issue away from a claim of the particular and to a more powerful universal demand. Bearing in mind the previously discussed chain of equivalence linking the fight for gender equality and


In sum, this is an issue with great temporal relevance due to the infinite nature of the problem and the number of political actors involved in implementation. The framing of the issue that connects safe MHM to the full enjoyment of a range of core human rights leaves a ‘real’ issue which gains even more temporal relevance as it also potentially implicates international officials such as those involved in the enforcement of human rights.

4.2.4. The degree of complexity

This fourth category refers to the ‘technical’ or ‘simple’ nature of the problem. This has implications on the actors involved in the decision-making process which is particularly important as it could also impact the eventual outcome of the conflict (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.98-99). In issues that are highly complex, it may be necessary to involve ‘knowledge brokers’ to convey the information in a comprehensible manner to the relevant decision makers. This process could lead to a level of manipulation of the facts depending on the broker and their audience (Litfin, 1994: p.4). Cobb and Elder suggest measures of ‘number of people required to administer a program’, ‘levels of government involved’ and ‘the extent to which the issues are really understood’ (Cobb & Elder, 1983: p.100).

The measure regarding the levels of government involved has previously been discussed so will not be repeated here however, should be noted that the involvement of different levels will add to the complexity. The number of people required to administer the program will be high given that it includes members of government, those who run education facilities, and selected public bodies too. However, to simplify the matter, the bill does gives comprehensive information on how this program could be administered by each of these actors. Additionally, it notes that other than education establishments, all additional parts of the program should be regulated individually by Scottish ministers which would allow for a more local, hands on approach in the different Scottish constituencies (SP Bill 45, 2019: p.1 § 2).

Finally, the measure of ‘extent to which the issues are really understood’ presents an interesting discussion. Here, the bill itself provides for a noncomplex program of a right and corresponding duty with no need for technical knowledge to interpret it. However, the issue that this program responds to and is justified by, could be seen as more complex due to the previously discussed stigma. As noted stigma surrounds menstruation discourses and shrouds the topic in a level of secrecy so the socioeconomic impact of MHM is not always articulated. The bill provides empirical evidence for this and shows that the stigma means menstruation is not reported as


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