HAPUR DISTRICT, India — About 60 km outside of New Dehli, young women are shedding the stigma of menstruation and blossoming into financial independence. This can be largely attributed to the selfless mission of The Pad Project. This student-run organization based in California is dedicated to employing women and increasing the availability of sanitary napkins in rural and impoverished areas as a way to end period poverty in India. These two steps alone present major steps forward in improving women’s rights and reducing poverty throughout India, a story that unfolds in the short Netflix documentary “Period. End of Sentence.”
In many parts of India, menstruation is viewed as an illness. The topic is taboo, which results in a lack of education on how to safely address issues that arise from menstruation. In areas that struggle with poverty, up to 88 percent of menstruating girls and women substitute sanitary napkins with rags, leaves or other absorbent items to avoid staining their clothes. These substitutions are dangerous and increase the risk of infection.
Furthermore, during their menstrual cycle, women are considered “dirty” and are barred from a variety of activities due to cultural stigma. They are not permitted to pray at temples, and even attending school becomes difficult and embarrassing. A UNICEF study conducted in 2011 indicates that as much as 60 percent of adolescent girls missed school because of menstruation. Too many absences can cause girls to fall behind on schoolwork, which often makes dropping out of school easier than making up for the lost time.
The Pad Project
However, the tide is turning in women’s favor. The Pad Project’s purpose is to raise money that can then be used to install a revolutionary machine helping to end period poverty in India. The machine, created by a man named Muruganantham, produces sanitary pads that are affordable, effective and biodegradable. The goal for the organization is to make India “a 100 percent napkin-using country from the current level of less than 10 percent,” Muruganantham states in the film.
In addition, the employees hired to operate the machinery are exclusively female, providing women in rural areas with a steady source of income. Combined, these are the two most vital elements needed to end period poverty in India. The Pad Project goes above and beyond simply providing the machine, however. Their contribution to furthering women’s independence comes in three stages.
- The organization coordinates with feminist activists on the ground in India who have indicated a need for the machine in their area.
- The Pad Project determines what must be provided to the area for the machine to be effective, including assessing whether there is a consistent source of electricity to power the machine. If not, the Pad Project provides the additional funds needed to install solar panels.
- The organization launches a fundraising campaign, using the donations to cover the cost of the machine, an entire year’s worth of supplies and “a team of local women who can educate other women how to use the machine and also how to destigmatize periods.”
Working Toward Progress
“Period. End of Sentence” depicts just a small portion of the effort it will take to end period poverty in India. But, through the work of people like Muruganantham, organizations like the Pad Project along with the bright, motivated women seeking greater independence, the stigma surrounding periods in India is starting to diminish.
In 2015, India’s Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation published a document detailing the National Guidelines for Menstrual Health Management. These guidelines emphasize the special sanitation needs for menstruating women and intend to intervene at every level of government to implement changes to accommodate those needs. While the plan outlined by the document will take time to fully launch, it is a major indication of cultural progress.
As an increasing number of women strive to gain equal footing in strictly patriarchal societies, expanding education and employment opportunities for women has become a priority in liberating them from cultural oppression. As the access to information becomes easier, the movement to remove the stigma attached to the female body is growing. If there has ever been a time to end period poverty in India, it’s now.
– -Emmitt Kussrow