By: Tasnin Khan
“When there’s patriarchy, it takes time to talk about something about women.” That’s one Indian woman’s thoughts on the challenges that come with bringing about more practical, comfortable solutions for managing periods in her village of Hapur, India while erasing its stigma.
“Period. End of Sentence.” is a ground-breaking, Oscar-winning documentary that is short and sweet. Not only does it bring to light an important topic that is still brushed under the rug and deemed taboo even here, but the best part is it shows you how far-reaching your efforts can be. The documentary was produced by dedicated students and their teacher from a small Los Angeles high school, who fundraised money to pay for the sanitary napkin machines given to women in India, thus jumpstarting #ThePadProject.
Many of us may be able to relate to having to hide our periods or cramps, feeling some level of shame or embarrassment around our time of the month, or just having to brush off the discomfort, cramps, bloating, and difficult adjustments that come with it as we go about tasks at work and school.
For the women documented in “Period. End of Sentence.” and so many others, this shame and the lack of access/knowledge of periods and women’s health that often accompanies it has far-reaching effects. One girl dropped out of school because she would feel so much shame in leaking and not being able to change rag-clothes used to manage her period. Similar situations affected many young girls who would miss school and fall too behind with each period, eventually dropping out.
The problems don’t stop there. Many are at risk of infection because without access to pads, women use rag-clothes that are dirty or leaves. For the few who may be able to find and afford pads somewhere (where most cannot afford them), there’s a struggle that comes with being able to actually buy pads at ease in stores owned and surrounded by men.
Enter: Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who invented a low-cost sanitary machine to tackle this problem. His goal was “to create India into a 100% napkin-using country from what is currently less than 10%.”
This initiative was brilliant because not only did this increase access at an affordable cost, but by teaching women how to operate these sanitary napkin machines themselves, they were encouraged to have a means of their own income. One woman in the documentary, Sneha, was able to use her wages from the pad machine to funding her training to become a member of the Delhi Police Force - her dream job. Ultimately women earning their own income and being able to take initiative of their period care even inspired the men around them to become more curious to learn about periods and how to operate machines.
Ruby Schiff, Avery Siegel and Claire Sliney and their English teacher, Melissa Barto made a huge impact from a thoughtful idea, and thanks to the bake sale and yoga-thons they organized, women in Hapur now have independent incomes and more comfortable periods.
Their initiative inspired The Girls Room to continue #ThePadProject. Timely enough, my mother was traveling to Bangladesh around this time and so we started a drive to collect pads to be taken to women in villages back home who experience similar challenges to those in the documentary.
The problem is seen here too - women in prisons and homeless still do not have access. Let’s continue the energy started by “Period. End of Sentence.” and keep educating others and doing what we can to level the playing field and provide period products to those who don’t have what we do.
Check out the 26-minute documentary for yourself on Netflix! For more information, check out thepadproject.com.