It is estimated that 500 million women face menstrual precariousness every month. The main reason for this? taboos around menstruation, the weight of traditions, lack of information, difficulty in accessing sanitary protection and extreme poverty. These women who suffer this precariousness are often forced to choose between menstruation and the rest. In some developing countries, young girls who have their period remain isolated at home to the detriment of their schooling, while others have no direct access to water and live their menstrual cycles in poor hygienic conditions.
Throughout the world, women in great financial precariousness have to choose between food and hygiene protection. This phenomenon has existed for years, but public awareness is much more recent.
Thanks to the hard work of various organisations around the world, the issue of menstruation is becoming more and more prominent in debates, even in government circles. The fight is far from over, but it is clear that people now dare to tackle the subject of menstrual precariousness without taboos, and many are working to get women out of this situation.
Scotland: a pioneer country
In 2018, Scotland took everyone by surprise by becoming the first nation in the world to distribute free sanitary protection for its 395,000 or so female pupils and students. With this measure, Scotland has made it possible for young girls to no longer have to choose between living a decent menstrual life and eating or going to college or university. Until then, one in 10 girls was unable to afford sanitary protection every month because it was too expensive, and more than one in 10 girls had to find an alternative way to protect themselves during their period. In addition, this leading measure has helped to end the taboo of menstruation and the feeling of “shame” that can be associated with it, which was felt by 71% of girls in the country.
Scotland did not stop there, and in February 2020, the Scottish Parliament passed a bill, led by MP Monica Lennon, to legislate free periodic protection for all women in the country. The Scottish Parliament finally passed the law on November 24. This is another world first for Scotland which, with this law, not only ensures that women can live their periods with dignity, but also that they can have easy access to sanitary products, since Scotland plans to make periodic protections simply available in pharmacies, shelters, secondary schools, etc. A real revolution is underway.
Règles Élémentaires is making a difference in France
The nonprofit organisation Règles Élémentaires – Elementary Period– is also a pioneering organisation at its level, and was the first to organise a campaign for the collection of sanitary products in France, in 2015. “Before launching this project, I was convinced that there was no phenomenon of menstrual precariousness in France, because we never heard about it,” explains Tara Heuzé-Sarmini, founder of the organisation. However, 1.7 million women in France suffer from menstrual precariousness every month, and according to a study conducted by Ifop in 2019, 39% of the most precarious women have insufficient access to periodic protection, forcing 17% of them not to go to work during their period for lack of protection.
Règles Élémentaires therefore addressed the issue and 5 years later, this initiative has helped break the menstrual taboo in France thanks to awareness-raising actions in schools, training in menstrual hygiene, etc. The structure has also made it possible to redistribute more than 4 million periodical protections, within the framework of a thousand voluntary campaigns organised throughout France, from which 100,000 women have benefited. “We have also obtained free access to 5 references of sanitary products in all the prisons and detention centres with women’s quarters”, Tara explains, and adds: “In France, we started by experimenting and we attached a budget to it. Now the government is talking about it and taking action, things are moving in the right direction”.
In fact, in 2020, the Government has established an experiment aimed at providing periodic protection for precarious women. This experiment concerns secondary school pupils, female students, homeless women, women prisoners and women in extreme poverty.
The fight against menstrual precariousness is therefore well underway in France, but there is still a long way to go. For Règles Élémentaires, the objective is “to no longer need to exist, to obtain free quality protection in all key places such as middle schools, high schools, universities, hospitals and emergency shelters”, and it is also essential that this subject “be integrated into the public space and that there be dispensers in the street, in hotels, restaurants or bars”. This is a matter to be followed for France, which is already on the right track.
In Cameroon: the company that defies the taboo of periods
It has been almost 10 years since Olivia Mvondo, a Cameroonian entrepreneur, started tackling the issue of menstrual precariousness. On the African continent, one woman in 10 does not go to school when she menstruates and many of them are unaware of this subject, which is still very much taboo on the continent, and is confronted with the weight of beliefs and traditions. “In Cameroon, it still happens that a young girl is told not to cook during her period, because the food would be spoilt,” warns the founder. To fight against this scourge and to limit the number of girls dropping out of school, Olivia Mvondo created KmerPad, a company that produces and supplies reusable periodical protections.
To do this, the company has devised sanitary towel kits, which allow young girls to be autonomous for eighteen months. These kits are sold at a very economical price, and distributed free of charge to refugee centres or populations in great precariousness. In addition, KmerPad carries out multiple awareness campaigns to lift the taboo of menstruation and teach women the right reflexes in terms of menstrual hygiene. Support and awareness-raising work is carried out in prisons, refugee centres, isolated villages and schools.
The company, which was awarded the French Grand Prix de la Finance Solidaire in 2019, has already helped 5,175 women become aware of the issue of menstrual precariousness, and has distributed more than 250,000 periodical protections throughout the country.
To find out more and if you haven’t seen it yet, we recommend the Oscar-winning 2019 documentary short “Period. End of Sentence” which breaks the taboo of menstruation in India. Still available on Youtube and Netflix.
Through these Stories, Azickia aims to highlight social impact initiatives, in France and around the world, while not necessarily adhering to all the opinions and actions implemented by them. It is and will remain in Azickia’s DNA to fight against all forms of discrimination and to promote equality for all.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 France License.