Menstrual insecurity in France: what do you need to know?

Menstrual precariousness has been one of our concerns since the launch of Elia. This social and public health issue is coming up more and more in discussions, particularly on social networks. Many of you have asked us what it's all about.

What is menstrual insecurity?

Menstrual precariousness is the difficulty women have in accessing sanitary protection due to lack of means. Emergency solutions seem to be the only way to alleviate this precarious situation: toilet paper collected in public places or old newspapers used as sanitary towels, menstrual cups made from the neck of a plastic bottle... These solutions present a real health risk for these women, both physically (irritation, itching, serious infections) and psychologically (loss of self-confidence, difficulty of reintegration, social isolation, taboo surrounding menstruation).

How many women in France are in a precarious menstrual situation?

In France, an estimated 1.7 million women are in this situation. In the majority of cases, they are the working poor, students, women in prison or homeless women who have to do without periodical protection because they can't afford it.
In fact,20% of French women have already been directly or indirectly affected by menstrual insecurity.

What are the causes of menstrual insecurity?

There are many causes of menstrual precariousness. It's against these that we must take action.

The cost of menstrual protection

Choosing each month between eating or buying a pack of sanitary towels, or exceeding the maximum recommended wearing time for a tampon each day to save as much as possible: this is the daily reality for millions of women in precarious situations when it comes to their menstrual flow.

The cost of sanitary protection is a real brake on the economic reality of their wallets. At Elia, we've invented the first calculator to show you how much you can save when you buy a pair of menstrual panties.

But while in the medium to long term, this is an undeniable saving, some women in precarious menstrual situations can't even afford to pay around 30 euros for a pair of menstrual panties, not to mention the sometimes complicated access to a water point or washing machine to maintain them. That's why we encourage you to donate your old, new disposable pads to associations that will distribute them to women in need.

The taboo of menstruation and lack of information

There's still an omerta, a silence surrounding menstruation, the female cycle, the normalization of pain and menstrual pathologies that are sometimes misunderstood (such as endometriosis). Attitudes are changing, but there's still a long way to go to free ourselves from the taboo surrounding menstruation.
So we need to talk about it, get informed and educate those around us about the issues that concern women on a daily basis. Lack of information leads to menstrual insecurity, which in turn is a source of public health problems, increasing the risk of sexually transmitted infections and gynaecological diseases such as toxic shock syndrome. Fortunately, social networks, committed brands like Elia and motivated associations are all helping to take one more step towards these women every day.

What actions are being taken in France to combat menstrual precariousness?

Although it's necessary to speak out and take action in favor of menstrual precariousness, actions have already been put in place in France to combat this inequality. Let's take a look at these initiatives together!

The actions of the Règles Élémentaires association

To combat menstrual insecurity and help women in need, there are a number of solutions. These include the Règles Élémentaires association, which organizes collections of intimate hygiene products that it then makes available free of charge to women in need, thanks to a network of partners. This association also aims to raise awareness on this subject, to break the taboo that still reigns around this natural phenomenon. We also regularly support their campaigns and events!

Free sanitary protection for students

Along the same lines, some universities and student associations are committed to distributing free sanitary protection for female students, as is the case at the University of Lille and the University of Rennes 2. The latter is also planning to install free sanitary protection dispensers in women's toilets, an idea that has also been implemented at the Sorbonne and is spreading to a number of schools. Other alternatives exist for female students: the Mutuelle des Etudiants reimburses 20 to 25 euros a year for the purchase of sanitary pads by its members. This is all part of the fight against menstrual insecurity, which can affect menstruating girls from an early age: every year, the numerous absences due to menstruation at school can end up causing them to drop out of school.

A budget of 5 million euros deployed by the State in 2021

On the government side, progress also seems to be on the way with the launch of an experiment in several collective places to combat menstrual precariousness. With an initial budget of one million euros, now raised to 5 million, this project aims to distribute free sanitary pads to women who cannot afford to meet this need. It also aims to raise awareness of menstruation among girls and boys, starting in the sixth grade. What's more, MPs have reportedly recommended the creation of a sanitary pad recycling chain, as there is only one factory dedicated to this in Europe today.

If this experiment bears fruit, France could well follow the example of Scotland, the first country to make tampons and sanitary pads available free of charge to its female students. To be continued...

FAQs on menstrual precariousness

Who is affected by menstrual precariousness?

Almost 2 million French women are affected by menstrual precariousness: working poor, students, women in prison, the homeless or those living in extreme poverty, who can't afford to buy sanitary protection every month.

Where can I find free sanitary protection?

From specialized associations such as Règles Élémentaires. For female students, some schools are also introducing free sanitary-paper dispensers.

How to combat menstrual insecurity?

By educating those around you about menstruation and women's health, and by making donations (monetary or in kind: sanitary pads) to specialized associations.

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