The taboo topic of menstruation has gradually made its way to the public discourse and now even to the Oscars. The moment is indeed worth cherishing. Ten teen aged girls from Oakwood School, North Hollywood raised $3,000 to donate the pad-making machine, with the help of GLI (Girls Learn International), an NGO in Los Angeles, and Action India, Delhi, after they came to know that girls in rural Indian schools drop out because of periods. Eventually, they decided to make a documentary on the issue, which led to the inception of the Oscar winning short film ‘Period.End Of Sentence‘. It is directed by award winning filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi , and co-produced by Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment.
This short Netflix movie has won accolades for depicting the story of women like by Sneha (a strong willed woman trying to enter police force to break free from the shackles of forced marriage) among others, in a remote village outside Delhi. The documentary goes about chronicling the fight of these women against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation; and how they empower themselves by learning to manufacture and market their own pads, when a sanitary pad vending machine is installed in the village.
However, the film slightly disappoints at the restricted narrative that has dominated the Western feminist notions of women’s realities in the Global South – “here are some poor, uneducated women; they have a problem; someone else has a solution that we implement for their betterment”.
The short film (just like the Bollywood flicks Padman and Toilet) becomes the story of one-man’s revolutionary invention to solve what he sees as the crux of women and girls dilemma during menstruation- shame and taboo associated with buying ‘modern’ disposable pads that compels them to use a piece of cloth(which is backward). But is that all there is, to it?
Bleeding with dignity is not just about convenient usage that disposable pads advertise incessantly. Arunachalam’s idea has stumbled upon the socialist concept of seizing mass production from the hands of capitalist corporations and giving it back to the local communities (often placing them in debt). There however is a severe lack of imagination when as a society we just stop at this particular point.
The journey is towards menstruator’s right to self determination and informed consent over what they choose to bleed hygienically over. Like shown in the movie, conversations on menstruation often just end with a disposable pad revolutionizing women and girls lives. The fact, however, remains neglected that a lot of them are still not aware of the composition of these disposables, whether or not they are safe for use and disposal, and the other available alternatives to bleed on.
Why do we still shy away from talking about cloth pads, menstrual cups, period panties etc? We don’t talk about the difficulties of accessing resources for the upkeep of menstrual hygiene products. We never talk about why our governments don’t care to regulate the markets to prevent monopoly of companies that profit by commodifying women’s bodies. Nor do we demand better inclusive and affordable health and sanitation policies.
So while we celebrate the ‘Oscar’, let’s also talk about the whole picture , not just a group of women in a remote north Indian village. Period poverty and stigma exists worldwide, and menstruation equity calls for an open dialogue for and with the women suffering from such hardships. Menstruators in public schools(especially in poor countries), streets and prisons and other marginalized groups face the worst of this global negligence. Campaigns to end this are being led by youth beyond borders and nations. Our oppression is inter-sectional and complex, so the solutions must not be one-track and disposable.