“Menstrual panties, test phase.” This is the title of a mysterious message received by SNCF freight train drivers. Sent by the SNCF Mixité service, responsible for gender equality in the company, it was supposed to respond to a problem for women in the sector, namely the absence of toilets in freight trains. But, according to the Parisian, it mostly created an uproar. “It does not go through ! protests a railway worker. We have been fighting for twenty years for decent working conditions, in particular access to dedicated toilets and sufficient break times. And the box gives us this kind of response: “Put on your panties and you keep them on for eight hours!”
“As part of the talks on the subject of access to sanitary facilities”, an experiment was to be launched with “female driving staff” with the famous washable panties, according to the daily, which consulted the message. “This combines ecological advantages, safe use and practicality. [car] it can be kept for several hours.” And to go further, the service even called on three volunteers – four finally wanted to participate – to test this ‘type of protection for six months’, with three fair trade organic fabric panties and their clip-on towels per person.
Women are in a very large minority among SNCF drivers, with 394 female train drivers compared to 12,530 among their male counterparts. And their working conditions are particularly degraded since some explain having to pee between two cars, like men. A slightly better situation in passenger trains, since the toilets are often dirty, which is even more problematic for women.
“We had to act immediately”
The president of SNCF Mixité, Anne-Sophie Nomblot, denounced Saturday “an unfair presentation” of the experiment. “The controversy he seeks to arouse seems to me harmful to the interests of women and could dissuade them from applying for this very beautiful job”, she added on Twitter.
However, she explains that she understands the controversy “if we don’t see things as a whole”. “We don’t claim to fix everything with menstrual panties. It is a short-term palliative solution, but we are also carrying out substantive work with the traction management and human resources. “It was during the auditions of the drivers at the end of last year that the problem of the toilets appeared, explains one of the four SNCF Mixité ambassadors. Journeys sometimes take six or seven hours and, unlike long-distance passenger trains, freight trains have no toilets.
He pursues : “The question of the rules has been raised. The drivers explained to us that they wore their tampon or pad for abnormally long periods of time. With the risk of toxic shock. We had to act immediately. That’s how the idea came up to fund for them, because it’s expensive, menstrual panties. A decision which therefore does not seem to have convinced the parties concerned.
“Sexist and discriminatory practices”
It is also not the first time that the SNCF has been singled out for its treatment of women. In 2014, a booklet distributed to its employees gave its “beauty tips” for their officers to show off their new uniform. On a pink page were then indicated that a “simple and neat makeup is highly recommended” and recommended six products “indispensable”including an “good-looking blush” and “a discreet lipstick”, in particular in order to be “acceptable” at the counters.
And if men also had the right to advice, on a blue page on the other hand, the CGT Cheminots castigated at the time a “management of the SNCF [qui] makes the assumed choice of sexist and discriminatory practices from another time, unworthy of a public company like the SNCF which has a duty to set an example”, specifying that“in some places, regional offices offer female train drivers a kit (go girl!) to enable them to urinate standing up”. An idea reminiscent of menstrual panties offered instead of the installation of toilets or breaks on the journey in places that have them. “We launched a map of the toilets, station by station, and we asked for an estimate to equip the doors with an SNCF pass reader”, assures one of the four ambassadors of SNCF Mixité. A map that will serve both women and men, the difficulty of peeing in good conditions being a general problem among railway workers.
Updated at 5:55 p.m. with details and a new reaction from the SNCF.