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My Views On The Recent Promotional Gesture Called The PadMan Challenge

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“PadMan” is a film on real-life social activist and entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham from Coimbatore, who invented the cost-effective machine producing low-cost sanitary pads and became famous for his advocacy of menstrual hygiene in rural India. The film releases on February 9, 2018 starring Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor.

While I’m glad, Bollywood is finally heading towards being a progressive fraternity regarding tackling social issues and taboos, but is the #PadmanChallenge helping in breaking taboos surrounding the subject or is it just another marketing gimmick to promote the seemingly noble film? Will it attempt to eliminate the stigma around menstruation?

The irony of the situation is that while more people are openly talking about menstruation and menstrual hygiene thanks to the “PadMan” movement, the fact remains that sanitary pads are a luxury item that cannot be accessed by one and all. Being able to use one for a picture then chuck it away casually is the sign of a privileged position.

More than anything the challenge has probably managed to promote the film more effectively than any other form of promotion the makers and actors previously engaged in. But to reduce the problem to something exceedingly simple that can be solved with a few pictures, I believe, takes away the real efforts of social workers and activists who have spent time, resources and hard work, to not only crumble the stigma around menstruation, but to educate people about it, to teach them fact from myths, making sanitary products available and accessible to thousands of women.

The stigma surrounding menstruation runs very deeply associating the blood with dirt, disgust, something to be hidden and even fear. This is a form of misogyny, and the taboos surrounding menstruation are at the center of the origins of patriarchy, which cannot be normalised by celebrities clicking a sanitary pad picture in support. In a country where people aren’t even educated about menstruation and constantly buy into myths about it, educating people against taboos should be the first and foremost priority.
India is a country where menstrual hygiene management can be problematic for women and girls. These issues are prevalent due to the lack of knowledge and understanding of their own bodies, social stigmas and myths of menstruation, and the access to affordable and absorbent materials. Many practices during menstruation have direct implications on women’s reproductive health of which they do not know resulting in urogenital infections.

Lending a face to the promotion of the film around menstrual hygiene goes a long way in trying to normalise menstruation in our society. However, menstruation will continue to hold women and girls back until the lack of education is addressed and the stigmatisation by cultural attitudes are challenged.

The spurring of Bollywood celebrities posing with sanitary pads has given them undue credit. It is necessary to point out here that this wave of interest from Bollywood stars on issues of menstrual hygiene also seem to be closely tied to the fortunes of their colleague’s film. The people with more capital will have the most visibility. However, it takes away the credit that grassroots activists and workers deserve who don’t have the fortunes to promote movements that serve a greater purpose.

The “PadMan” challenge also fails to address the unsustainability of commercial sanitary pads. A woman creates an average of 125 kilograms of menstrual waste during her menstruating years in the form of used sanitary pads. Without any method or provision to privately dispose of used pads, women often find themselves in embarrassing situations leaving them piled up in street corners. Commercially available sanitary pads can take about 500 to 800 years to decompose. Therefore, it is vital to consider alternative menstrual products like re-usable cloth pads, eco-friendly biodegradable pads, and menstrual cups to combat this.

My intention is not to protest against the film “PadMan” or the challenge and neither is this an open letter to Bollywood, the producer or director for taking up the social cause, but it is to question the honesty, integrity and sincerity of the movement.

Bollywood is a platform where the fraternity has a voice and incredible visibility. They have the power to convince and bring about change. However, this effort is only made up until the film’s release then the passion and zeal towards the cause then seems to be lost. One can only hope that the interest doesn’t die out with the film’s box-office run.

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