In a nation where menstruation is still a taboo topic, where 71 percent of girls still stay unaware about it until they get their first periods, and where a mere 18 percent of women use sanitary pads, the Oscar-winning short documentary, 'Period. End of Sentence', set in India is a significant achievement. This victory is expected to alleviate open discussions around menstruation.
Urmila Chanam, a menstrual hygiene management activist, said, "Winning an Oscar is a monumental milestone which has shown the importance of storyline and the need for hygiene awareness. This issue needed importance at the global and international level. Participants have worked for the last six years and they have succeeded and scaled beyond geographic boundaries. This will also encourage grass root workers.”
Exploring the work of real-life 'Pad Man', Arunachalam Muruganathan, the film documents the lives of girls and women in Kathikera village of Hapur district in Uttar Pradesh and the stigma they face regarding menstruation.
Directed by Iranian-American filmmaker, Raykar Zehtabchi and produced by Indian Guneet Monga and Melissa Berton, the film depicts how women in this community lead a quiet revolution after a sanitary pad vending machine is installed in their village. They also learn to manufacture and market their own pads, which provide employment to many of these women.
"A period should end a sentence, not a girl's education," said Berton, while accepting the academy award. Last year, the Bollywood movie, Padman, also raised awareness on menstruation.
Chanam also said that there is a need for creative work like movies and other art forms, as they help in spreading the message to a larger audience. "Till yesterday we only had data but now we have international recognition which can be shown to people and encourage them to learn. This is a big win also with women winning this. More so, this is not just about what men think about menstruation, but also highlights the affordability, hygiene, and commodity," she added.
The documentary removes the air of secrecy and embarrassment often associated with discussing menstruation in public or in the family, said Dr Shylaja Shyamsunder, Consultant at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital, Bengaluru.
"This will help remove the myths that propagate the idea that menstruation is a dirty affair, which women are cursed to undergo monthly. It empowers women to discuss their concerns and paves way for a healthy and spirited life," she added.
As for a long term solution, Chanam said it would be working in educational institutions and adding subject to the curriculum, not only for girls but also boys. She also said that talking about menstruation is still a barrier and anyone talking about it is silenced and shamed. Once the stigma surrounding periods fades in both rural and urban set-up, the situation will improve especially with regards to women's health.
While the road is still long, movies like this being recognised on a global platform are sure to set the ball rolling and along the way allow menstruation to not be seen as a social stigma, not just in India but many other parts of the world where menstruation is still not considered a natural occurrence....