For Sadrana, a student who lives in Marseille, buying sanitary products is a monthly struggle.
“There are some things I don’t have to buy, like fruit and veg, but I absolutely can’t go without sanitary products”, explains the 19-year-old, who recently moved from Haiti to France.
This week, the French government announced reusable sanitary products would become free from 2024 for people aged under 25.
Reusable sanitary products include menstrual cups and reusable pads. They are part of a growing market which is increasingly challenging traditionally unsustainable sanitary products like tampons.
Under the new plan, the French healthcare system will refund women for products purchased in pharmacies.
The situation in France
In the last year, 30% of women in France aged between 18-24 were regularly unable to buy sanitary products due to financial difficulties – a trend which was amplified by the cost of living crisis.
The government’s latest measure will make a big difference to young women like Sandrana, who has just €600 per month to cover her rent and living expenses.
“I can only purchase the most basic and cheapest sanitary products rather than more effective ones. Because my monthly budget is calculated to the last euro the quality of what I can buy is affected”.
Where Europe stands
In France, the number of people affected by period poverty has doubled from two to four million in the last two years, according to French period charity Règles Elementaires.
The French government’s move comes as progress tackling period poverty – which refers to the lack of access to sanitary products due to financial constraints – across Europe has stalled.
The EU currently imposes a 5% minimum VAT threshold on sanitary products – but certain countries such as Ireland and Malta have been able to bypass this, while others like Germany have lowered their VAT rates on sanitary products to meet the EU minimum threshold.
Scotland paved the way by becoming the first country in the world to make sanitary products free in 2020.
Britain was also able to remove its ‘tampon tax’ in January 2021, following its departure from the European Union.
Older women excluded from new scheme
Règles Elementaires told Euronews: “we were surprised and delighted by the news, but there is still a long way to go”.
Despite moves to help young women affected by period poverty, older women have not been included in new measures.
“You don’t have to be under 25 to be affected by period poverty, single mothers are consistently among the most affected”, underlines the charity.
In 2021, the French government launched one of its flagship projects aimed at helping younger women – installing 1,500 sanitary dispensers across French subsidised student housing units and universities.
However, this target has not been fully met, and many of the students most in need, like Sadrana, aren’t aware of the existence of these free dispensers.
“I am always looking at what different charities are doing but I had no idea that there were dispensers in universities.”
Règles Elementaires is calling for these dispensers to be mapped by the government, while pointing out the fact they remain “an emergency last resort measure rather than a stable way of providing women with sanitary protection”.
The government has yet to announce further practical details on which reusable sanitary products will be reimbursed from 2024. It also pledged to increase funding to charities tackling period poverty.