"I felt the need to get involved in a cause that was close to my heart"

"I felt the need to get involved in a cause that was close to my heart"

Alice Voirand shares her commitment to women's health
  • Actualité Sciences PoActualité Sciences Po

A recent graduate of the Master in Public Policy at the School of Public Affairs, Alice Voirand has just earned the Advanced Certification in Gender Studies, which attests to her multidisciplinary training in gender studies. Below, she recounts her academic, professional and associative commitments to women's health.

HOW DID YOUR INTEREST IN GENDER STUDIES COME ABOUT?

I grew up in a rather masculine environment, with two older brothers whom I looked at as my role models. I spent my childhood wanting to assert myself and take my place alongside them, but I was guided by strong female figures, in particular the character of Hermione Granger in Harry Potter. When I started high school, I discovered sociology. I understood that boys and girls were socialised differently, that the image of women reflected by society was not the same as that of men, and I understood that in today's society we don't have the same opportunities. So I wanted to speak out against this and the biases that I was able to internalise, which still push me today to always want to prove my worth.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AT SCIENCES PO?

I took several courses in gender studies at Sciences Po, taught in particular by Camille Froidevaux-Metterie, Réjane Sénac and Marta Domínguez Folgueras. These courses have enabled me to clarify my professional project. It is through these classes and personal commitments that I understood the importance of the fight for gender equality and the need to defend these values in my work.

During my gap year, I attended the French Navy's Higher Military Preparation for the General Staff, from which I graduated second in my class of 120. It was important for me to assert myself and go beyond my limits in a very masculine environment. Now that I am an officer, my project is to find a reserves’ contract linked to gender issues, gender equality and the fight against discrimination within the armed forces.

Today, my interest in gender studies is nurtured through reading feminist books and listening to podcasts. This allows me to learn more and more, to mature and build my arguments in order to be able to defend women's rights without self-censoring.

YOU DID YOUR END-OF-MASTER’S INTERNSHIP IN A FRENCH MENSTRUAL UNDERWEAR COMPANY. WHAT WERE YOUR MISSIONS?

FEMPO is the leading French menstrual underwear brand. I discovered the company at the beginning of 2019 and fell in love with it! Firstly for the underwear, which revolutionised my periods by allowing me to live through this period much more comfortably while protecting my health and the planet, but also for the overall project - helping women to re-appropriate their bodies - and for the website, which makes you want to go beyond your limits, to assert yourself. It was during my gap year, and I was questioning my prospects a lot. I felt more and more the need to commit myself to a cause that is really close to my heart, and to have an impact. And nothing is more important to me than improving the status of women in their lives and at work. So I immediately turned to FEMPO for my end of Master’s internship!

From January to June 2020, I was a marketing trainee and partnership manager in the field of health and education. I organised events to raise awareness of the brand, make menstruation a visible topic and to raise awareness on women's health. I also managed partnerships with humanitarian associations, through monthly donations of underwear. I also created opportunities for health professionals, offering them the possibility to test the underwear and raise awareness among their patients. Finally, I co-created and hosted the FEMPO podcast, which aims to inform and raise awareness among women so that they can better understand their body while breaking the taboo of menstruation.

CAN YOU TELL US MORE?

Before creating the FEMPO menstrual underwear, Claudette and Fanny, the creators of the brand, conducted a survey of 3000 women and realised that there was a profound lack of understanding about menstruation and women's health, and above all a huge desire for knowledge: women know little about menstruation and sometimes get false information, which can be detrimental to their health. It is therefore essential to speak freely about this subject and to inform women without taboos! They therefore decided to create an online exchange and information space to help women better understand their bodies. It started with the FEMPO blog, where we receive a lot of questions on subjects related to women's health, which we answer by writing articles.

In addition to the blog, we decided to create the FEMPO podcast during the lockdown, together with my colleague Nina. The podcast is dedicated to women's health, with short informative episodes and longer episodes including interviews with health professionals or associations. Nina and I are both passionate about women's health and want to do everything we can to help women regain control of their bodies and their biology. We have produced around fifteen episodes, eight of which were with health professionals, and we benefit from around 2,000 listeners per episode. It was a really exciting experience!

YOU CHOSE TO ADDRESS THE TABOO OF MENSTRUATION AND MENSTRUAL PRECARIOUSNESS IN YOUR GRAND ECRIT. WHY THIS SUBJECT?

In popular beliefs and myths, menstruation has often been associated with impurity and claimed to be harmful. This has given rise to a deep taboo that isolates women and excludes them from certain economic and social activities. Even today, menstruation is often associated with disgust and shame; it can be a difficult stage in the development of young girls. Several issues related to menstruation have recently surfaced in the public debate, but the subject has never been addressed in its entirety. However, menstruation contains a variety of issues and needs to be addressed in a comprehensive manner. For my Grand écrit, I therefore analysed the extent to which education and awareness raising on women's health can break the taboo of menstruation while combating menstrual precariousness. I addressed the taboo of menstruation, its consequences and the information and health monitoring measures that could be put in place to remedy it.

I also looked at menstrual precariousness, a considerable public health problem, which is partly due to the taboo of menstruation. It is the difficulty or lack of access to hygienic protection, due to poverty, lack of information, or rarity. According to the association Règles élémentaires, 1.7 million women are concerned in France, with three main categories of victims: women in extremely precarious situations, women in places of deprivation of liberty, and poor female students. This issue must be dealt with on a national scale: policy makers are beginning to take hold of the subject, with several parliamentary reports, and experiments that are going to be set up, including free protection in certain key places - prisons, schools, social care institutions, etc. - but also distributors allowing women to acquire protection through a bank card or a prepaid card, and support for associations helping precarious and homeless women.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?

I'm following up my end-of-study internship with a one-year contract at FEMPO! I am in charge of marketing and partnerships. I'm staying in the same team, on the same missions as during my internship. And I am now in charge of the editorial section of FEMPO. I am optimising the blog and writing new articles to provide the best possible information on women's health. The aim is to enable women to renew a more positive link with their bodies, their biology, their cycle, to help them assert themselves! I will also be able to participate again in conferences with health professionals, and festivals organised by associations, to present FEMPO and the benefits of menstrual underwear.

At the start of the new school year, I will also become a volunteer for Règles élémentaires, the first French association for the fight against menstrual precariousness. I want to make a personal commitment to help women who can't afford it to get enough sanitary protection to live decently during their period. The right to menstrual health is a human right that should be guaranteed for all! So I intend to give my time and energy, outside FEMPO, to improve the situation.

Article initially published on the website of the Research and educational programme on gender studies (Presage)

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