SEATTLE, Washington — “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!” Those were the excitable words of Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi, following her 2019 Oscar win for the short documentary Period. End of Sentence. This documentary was part of the Pad Project, a movement working to dismantle stigmas about menstruation.
Period. End of Sentence and the Pad Project
The film, create by the Pad Project, follows a group of local girls from Hapur, India as they are learning to operate a machine that produces biodegradable sanitary pads to be distributed to women in nearby areas at an affordable cost. Throughout the film, we meet many men and women whose lives are being directly impacted by these new machines.
The documentary does not shy away from explaining the catastrophic impacts a natural bodily function can have on women around the world. Women in certain parts of the world do not have access to affordable options when it comes to sanitary pads. This means that these women and girls must turn to old “rags, leaves or ashes.” These unhealthy last resorts could potentially lead to lingering medical issues that could force a young girl to miss copious amounts of school. And, when girls in India fall too far behind, they have no recourse but to drop out.
A Taboo Subject
When we are introduced to Harpur and the filmmakers are interviewing local women and girls. When they bring up the topic of menstruation, the awkwardness at discussing such a taboo subject is palpable. This discomfort is in the air, but it is charmingly softened by the nervous giggles and unsettling looks into the camera from the young girls. It is at the start of the film where we see the social stigmatization of women speaking openly about a very normal and natural bodily function.
This documentary was created as a kind of public service announcement to show the world that something as seemingly small as sanitary pads, or the lack of accessibility of them, can have serious, unintended consequences. The Pad Project is a California nonprofit that is trying to raise awareness for the issue with this documentary. It is also aiming to make these machines as accessible to women as possible.
Sanitary Pad Machines
While access to sanitary pads affects more women than men, we see an equitable distribution of opportunities for men who are open and willing to shed their ignorance about female hygiene. They commit themselves to learning, operating and even owning these sanitary pad machines. They also help with selling these products at local shops in nearby villages.
If the project succeeds, the machines will not only directly help the women but they will be also contributing to the local economy. Many women in these impoverished areas have never had a job. By teaching them to operate these machines, it will provide an income to many women who would not otherwise have one.
With an all-female film crew, the Pad Project was attempting to shine a light on what was thought of as a non-issue to many viewers. It has changed the lives of young girls and women by helping relieve what they believed were burdens of their own bodies. With more than 1.2 billion women in the world who still don’t have access to hygiene products, it is clear they have their work cut out for them. Hopefully, history will show that this documentary and this organization was a big step forward in ending period poverty.
– Connor Dobson