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A global health issue received unexpected global attention this week after a documentary about menstruation taboos won an Oscar. “Period. End of Sentence,” named best documentary short film, tells the story of a group of women in rural India struggling against the stigma to manufacture affordable menstrual pads.
It highlights the sort of problems facing at least 500 million women and girls around the world, who don’t have access to sanitary pads, clean water, private bathrooms and other things they need for menstrual hygiene. A growing body of research, the World Bank notes, shows that these access problems, along with “period stigma,” force women and girls to retreat from school and society.
HuffPost India’s Piyasree Dasgupta has reported on how these issues play out in rural villages like the one depicted in the Oscar-winning film. “The issue of disposal of pads — where [a woman in the film] mentions how dogs and cats come and tear apart a used pad — is something various grassroots workers I have interacted with while reporting on menstrual hygiene have brought up. Some had even commented that the lack of a proper disposal mechanism in villages often discourages women from using pads,” she says.
“That apart, the absence of proper toilets in many villages does make it difficult for girls to attend school during their periods. And the part about men being mostly unaware and unwilling to engage with issues around menstruation, exposed subtly over interviews with me, is also true.”
But Piyasree points out flaws in the narrative as well, spelled out by writer Sinu Joseph in a scathing HuffPost India opinion piece. Sinu, who works in menstrual health and hygiene, calls into question data cited in the film about pad use and the correlation drawn between girls dropping out of school and access to pads. “There simply isn’t enough evidence” to make that link, Sinu says. She also accuses the filmmaker of exploiting girls’ vulnerabilities by popping into co-ed classrooms, cameras rolling, and asking them questions about their periods, to their apparent mortification.
Piyasree appreciates the attention the film has brought to the long-standing issue but wonders whether it will actually result in social change. “The bias and challenges around menstrual health go much deeper than what the film portrays in a somewhat simplistic manner. I am also kind of unsure how this film will reach the villages, towns, poor migrant colonies in big cities where women struggle a lot with menstrual hygiene. There’s a considerable amount of work that is being done by civil society organizations for years to facilitate access to better menstrual health, and there are dozens of government schemes that partially work,” she says. “But menstrual health is an issue that cannot be viewed in isolation in India and would require way better governance as a whole for the situation to improve from where it is now.”
Until next time,
For more on “Period. End of Sentence,” read HuffPost India’s interview with producer Guneet Monga.
And check back in next week for a special “Her Stories” edition in honor of International Women’s Day.
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