At the Oscars this past Sunday, Period. End of Sentence won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short. The film explores deep-rooted stigmas about menstruation in a rural village 60km outside of New Delhi, India, where access to menstrual products is scarce and women drop out of school because managing their menstruation in secret is so burdensome. As advocates for women’s reproductive health, it is absolutely thrilling to see a film about periods being honored at one of the biggest cultural events of the year. Why? Because talking openly about periods is the first step towards crushing the menstruation taboo that oppresses women.
The film opens by asking residents of the village if they have heard of menstruation. Their reactions vary from mild embarrassment at the question, to not knowing what a period is at all. Secrecy and taboo lead to misinformation, as one man responds to the prompt, “Yes, I’ve heard it’s an illness.”
“Menstruation is the biggest taboo in my country,” says Arunachalam Muruganantham, the inventor of a low-cost pad machine which is used by the women of the film to create enough menstrual pads for their entire community. Unfortunately, the taboo still persists in the U.S. as well. An anonymous male Oscars Judge told the Hollywood Reporter that even though the film is good, no men will ever vote for it because periods are “icky for men”. This idea that periods are “icky” and should therefore be kept a secret is extremely harmful to women. In India, 80% of girls miss school an average of five days per month when they are menstruating, in part because of lack of access to menstrual products. When women miss school, they have less career opportunities and are more dependent on their families and husbands for financial security.
Sneha, one of the women in the film, dreams of becoming a police officer so she can earn her own wage and stay independent. Creating and selling pads with the pad machine Muruganantham installs in her village provides her with enough money to train for her dream job.
The pad machine was funded by an unlikely group: Southern California teenagers. Students of Oakwood High School wanted to find a way to help prevent young girls in India from dropping out of school due to their periods. Lead by their English teacher Melissa Berton, the students launched a Kickstarter campaign and held bake sales to raise money for the machine to be installed. You can learn more about their efforts and donate money at their website.
“I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar,” Rayka Zehtabchi, one of the film’s creators, exclaimed in her acceptance speech. As something half of the population deals with on a monthly basis for most of their lives, we think it’s about bloody time that women are shouting unabashedly about periods and the fight for menstrual equality on a world stage.