Around 500 women were expected at the protest, according to Le Figaro. It was organized by the Angry Soldiers’ Wives group, which has over 5000 members.
The demonstration took place at a symbolic place: right next to Paris’ iconic Hôtel des Invalides – which contains military museums and a hospital and retirement home for war veterans – and near the Ministry of Defence.
Mercedes Crépin, an organizer of the protest, said that some soldiers were being housed in “unhealthy conditions”, in “dilapidated hangars” infested with “lice and cockroaches”.
The protesters were also angry about what they see as a lack of support for returning soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “We feel completely helpless. We do not know to deal with this disease, how to support our men,” said Crépin, whose husband suffers from PTSD after a tour in Afghanistan.
“We want to show our discomfort, our anxiety and our anger,” she told TV channel France 3.
Crépin also expressed concern about treatment of soldiers’ widows. She said that some are forced to leave military housing within two or three months of their husbands dying, while receiving little help from the army.
That is while the army payment system is an additional source of anger. The programme’s software mistakenly overpaid numerous soldiers – so that families were soon asked to pay back the surplus. “Families must then go into debt,” said Crépin.
The Angry Soldiers Wives group also criticised what they say is an excessively long administrative process to have the rights of war casualties recognized by French authorities.
Although the movement as a whole has not named Opération Sentinelle as a source of grievance, some members are in favour of ending the programme – which was launched after the January 2015 Paris terror attacks, mobilising 7500 soldiers throughout France.
“Opération Sentinelle is not effective. The military cannot even search properly; when they arrest someone, they have to call the police,” Loetitia Hungary, co-founder of Angry Army Wives, told Le Figaro.
However, France’s Ministry of Defence argues that “Opération Sentinelle deters and protects”.