COLOGNE, Germany — France, often celebrated for its cultural heritage and progressive policies, has not been immune to a widespread issue affecting countless women and girls around the world: period poverty. According to French period charity Règles Elementaires almost 4 million people in France will struggle in obtaining sanitary protection, and therefore in experiencing their periods with dignity.
However, there is a growing movement, driven by student organizations, aimed at eradicating period poverty. The Borgen Project talked to Salomé Galès, former president of the student organization “Dignité à nos Trousses,” which is helping to reduce period poverty in France.
Understanding Period Poverty
Period poverty, defined as the lack of access to sanitary products, education about menstrual hygiene and appropriate sanitation facilities, has far-reaching consequences. It not only infringes upon the basic human rights of those affected but also exacerbates gender inequality and hampers overall societal progress.
In France, period poverty has been subtly pervasive, often hidden beneath the veneer of social norms. A concerning number of individuals, particularly those from marginalized backgrounds and students, struggle to afford menstrual products each month. The issue is aggravated by a lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive education, further contributing to the silence around menstruation.
Current State and Challenges
While France has made strides in acknowledging the existence of period poverty, significant challenges persist. A 2023 study made by Règles Elementaires revealed that the number of women experiencing period poverty has doubled since 2021, highlighting the need for targeted interventions. Limited access to public restrooms equipped with proper hygiene facilities, coupled with the high cost of menstrual products, has compounded the issue.
In some cases, this has led to school absenteeism among adolescent girls, jeopardizing their education and prospects. The inability to manage periods effectively can also affect mental health and self-esteem, perpetuating the cycle of inequality.
Student Initiatives: A Catalyst for Change
Amidst the backdrop of these challenges, a heartening force for change has emerged from the student community. Various student organizations across France have recognized the urgency of addressing period poverty and have embarked on initiatives that are making a tangible impact. One of them is the student association led by SciencesPo Students called “Dignité à nos trousses,” which literally translates to “Dignity at our heels” as Salomé Galès, former president of the organization explains. T
The 21-year-old started participating as a member during her studies in 2020 and quickly realized that she wanted to have a bigger impact: “My favorite part of civil engagement is simply the feeling of being helpful and offering concrete help to a person in need. Combined with my feminist beliefs, it was an obvious choice for me to prioritize this issue.”
The student-led efforts range from organizing menstrual product donation campaigns, the redistribution of the collected materials and raising awareness about menstrual health and hygiene.
By creating safe spaces for open conversations about menstruation, these initiatives are challenging the stigma associated with periods and creating a more inclusive environment for all. According to Mrs. Galès, these conversations often turn into discussions that are the most fruitful. “I had some difficult conversations with people, and I think this helped some of them to recognize the problem, to be more aware of it and hopefully to act against it.”
A Ray of Hope: Promising Developments
Despite the challenges, a growing awareness of period poverty in France has spurred both grassroots and governmental initiatives aimed at eliminating this pressing issue. In recent years, the French government has also shown its commitment to addressing period poverty.
In 2016, France became the first country in Europe to reduce the tampon tax to 5.5% which eventually brought them in line with comparable products such as soap or toilet paper. A significant stride towards ending period poverty has been the government’s commitment to provide free menstrual products as of 2021 in schools, universities, and public institutions, ensuring that no student’s education is hindered due to a lack of access.
One of the current standout achievements has been French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s announcement that reusable period products would be refunded by the country’s health system for all women under the age of 25 from 2024.
While Galès applauds these governmental efforts, she still sees room for improvement. “I think it’s a step forward. Nonetheless, this announcement only addresses a small part of the problem. What about people with periods who are older than 25? It’s still not enough”.
Looking Ahead: A Bright Future
France’s acknowledgment of period poverty and its dedication to tackling the issue mark a pivotal turning point. The collaborations between nonprofits, activists, and the government signal a comprehensive effort to eradicate period poverty and foster menstrual equity. Students like Mrs. Galès additionally showcase how civil engagement can provoke societal transformation and positive change. Her message is clear, and she is not afraid to voice it. “Everyone should have the right to live without fear or embarrassment during their period, to have their period with dignity. The fight against period poverty is also a fight for dignity and respect.”
The battle against period poverty in France thus has gained significant momentum. Acknowledging the issue, challenging taboos, and implementing policies that prioritize menstrual equity are vital steps toward a more inclusive and just society. The progress made so far is a testament to the power of collective action, and with determination, France is poised to lead the way in this global movement for change.
– Miriam Schuller