I was one of the millions of people who watched the Oscars live from their living rooms. I was pretty amazed that a documentary filmed in India and that too with a female director won the Oscar. While, I was excited about such a monumental win. I started getting uncomfortable as soon as I started reading about the documentary. Why did they have to make a documentary about Periods ew?
Social Stigma for a Natural Phenomenon
As this thought manifested in my mind, I immediately recognized my implicit bias against menstrual cycle. You see in India, a girl on period is not allowed to go to temple or into the pooja (prayer) room in their own house. If you are on a period, you cannot attend any holy rituals such as weddings, baby showers, naming ceremonies or the hundreds of festivals that we have through out the year. You or your family member has to then explain your absence adding on to your shame. At the time of the period Women are considered IMPURE and UNTOUCHABLE. I know families who restrict the women on periods to one corner of their home and are asked to eat separately from the family. Now, imagine the impact of a girl growing up in the society who thinks of her body as impure every single month. She feels impure and imperfect for something her body was designed to do. Why would someone take a very healthy and natural phenomenon and convert it into such a social and cultural stigma.
Social Stigma + Lack of Infrastructure
Now lets layer another factor on top of the social stigma- lack of sanitation. Many villages and cities lack easy access to sanitation and water, this access is an even bigger issue in slums. Women in slums have access to public toilets or use open fields (early in the day) for their natural needs. Ayonna Datta explores this issue deeper in her book, Illegal City: Space, law and gender. She talks with women and their challenges in a slum and how they are harassed in the early hours of the morning when they are trying to do their business.
Social Stigma + Lack of Infrastructure + Cost of Sanitary Pad
Now lets add one more layer, shall we, social stigma+ lack of infrastructure + inaccessibility of sanitary napkins. Sanitary napkins are out of reach for majority of women in poverty. So, imagine using an old rag as your sanitary pad for 12-14 hours a day (I know I am grossing out some people right now, but it is important to get comfortable talking about these issues if we want to change the stigma associated with these issues)
That is exactly the issue that the Period film makers tackled so beautifully. The documentary is about how a low-cost sanitary napkin manufacturing machine changes the lives of women an Indian Village and how it fights the social stigma against menstrual cycles. The World is indeed flatter and richer when we can learn and talk about our Taboos and stigmas openly.