Menstrual poverty, a major public health issue

Femme recroquevillée précarité menstruelle

On December 4, 2020, during an interview granted to the online media Brut., Emmanuel Macron had mentioned the theme of menstrual precariousness as a real social problem requiring “ a concrete response ”. This is the first time that a President of the Republic has spoken on this subject. Periods still remain taboo in society and the problems that arise from them are just as taboo. THE debate on the price of periodic protection is far from being anecdotal. Indeed, the expenses linked to these basic necessities are not negligible and lead to difficult situations for many women who experience this precariousness every month. We break silence in this article and we explain everything to you.

There Menstrual precariousness: a reality for many women in France

There Menstrual insecurity refers to the difficulty in obtaining periodic protection due to lack of means. According to a survey carried out by the IFOP in March 2021, this is a reality that affects 12% of the female population in France, or nearly 2 million women (1) . Every month, middle and high school girls, students, precarious workers and homeless women face this difficulty which further widens social and gender inequalities. Hygienic protections are essential products, and access to them is an issue of social justice and equal opportunities. This problem particularly affects many young women during their university studies. Indeed, a study carried out in February 2021 by the FAGE (Federation of General Student Associations), the ANESF (National Association of Student Midwives) and the AFEP (Federative Association of Picto-Charentais Students ), showed that one in three students say they need financial assistance to be able to obtain it (2) .

Menstrual poverty is an issue that is currently emerging in public debate thanks to associations acting on the ground and parliamentarians. These actors collectively place this issue on the political agenda as a public health problem whose consequences have a disastrous impact on the quality of life of the women concerned.

Menstrual poverty: major physiological and psychological consequences 

The health risks linked to menstrual poverty are very real. Indeed, menstrual poverty has significant consequences for health physical and moral of women in financial difficulty. A feeling of shame surrounds menstrual poverty, leading to inevitably situations of social exclusion, school dropouts and reintegration problems.

Women are exposed to gynecological damage and an increased risk of toxic shock. Menstrual TSS, or menstrual toxic shock syndrome , is a rare, sometimes fatal infection caused by bacteria that releases a toxin into the bloodstream. The tampons create a culture medium where the bacteria can grow and release this toxin responsible for toxic shock. The International Center for Research in Infectiology of Lyon and the National Reference Center for Staphylococci have demonstrated that “the risk of toxic shock syndrome is multiplied by two when a tampon is kept for more than six hours, and by three when the tampon is worn all night” (3) . Keeping period protection on for too long can endanger a woman's life. In precarious situations, some people also resort to emergency solutions using toilet paper or even newspapers, which can lead to irritation or serious infections.

What solutions to fight against menstrual poverty?

When it comes to combating menstrual poverty, one country sets an example in Europe and the world: Scotland. As of 2018, the country made periodic protection free in schools and universities. Last November , Scotland declared free access to these essential products. It is now enshrined in Scottish law that any woman can obtain periodic protection free of charge in a public building.

In France, free menstrual protection has been tested for more than a year in middle and high schools and among women in precarious situations with the installation of self-service sanitary protection dispensers in some public establishments. But it is necessary to expand these concrete measures, which prove to be rarely applied. This is what Emmanuel Macron observed during his interview last December: “ I asked that we move forward, I want that with the competent associations and for all the women who are in this situation we can have a answer ". Following this declaration, 5 million euros were released by the State for the most precarious populations: incarcerated women, homeless women as well as middle and high school students. As for universities, on February 23, the Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, Frédérique Vidal, also announced free hygienic protection in university establishments at the start of the 2021 school year with the implementation of dispensers in all residences, restaurants and university health services.

Associative and activist work plays an essential role in the search for solutions against menstrual poverty. This is the case with Elementary Rules . This association works to break the taboo of periods and help vulnerable women by organizing periodic protection collections. Since its creation in 2015, Règles Élémentaires has collected and redistributed more than 4 million hygienic protection products (4) . The various collection points for donating period products are listed on its website.

According to FAGE, educational and information work is also necessary in schools and universities in order to break the silence and unjustified shame surrounding menstrual issues and to raise awareness among young people about periods and associated illnesses. Normalizing periods means considering menstrual insecurity as a real public health problem and thus improving the health and lives of women in precarious situations.

To extend reading:

Written by Inès Perrein

Sources :

  1. IFOP. (2021). Study on menstrual poverty and concerns related to periods and hygienic protection . Ifop study for Eve and Co carried out by self-administered online questionnaire from March 18 to 19, 2021 with a sample of 1,009 women, representative of the French female population aged 15 to 49 residing in mainland France.
  2. FAGE, ANESF, AFEP. (2021). Menstrual poverty among students in France .
  3. We shouldn't be surprised: What is toxic shock? . (2020, September 25). Inserm.
  4. Rationale and key figures . Basic Rules.