WOMEN

HuffPost Her Stories: Oscar Win Sheds Light On Dangerous Menstruation Taboos

Plus: Sex in the age of internet porn.
A still from "Period. End of Sentence."
A still from "Period. End of Sentence."

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Dear reader,

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,

Emily

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.

Young people coming of age today have had greater access to hardcore porn than any previous generation. As HuffPost U.K. put it in an article this week about the phenomena: “Those going through puberty right now are likely to have seen an encyclopedia of sex acts years before they can legally consent to any of them.” The result, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a surge of intimacy problems. A number of women told HuffPost U.K. about violent and uncomfortable sexual experiences they’ve had with men, who they suspect took inspiration from porn. Erika Lust, a self-described feminist porn maker, said the problem isn’t porn itself but the availability of sexist, misogynistic — and free — hardcore content. This type of porn, she said, shows “sex as a thing that men do to women, or that women do for men.” The way forward? Experts advise education, communication and acceptance that porn is here to stay.

A bill proposed last month in California aims to shrink the gender pay gap for athletes competing in the U.S. state. The gap is a long-standing problem that affects everyone from professional stars to female trainers operating behind the scenes. If the new bill passes, HuffPost U.S. reports, organizers of all athletic competitions — from youth road races to high-profile surf competitions and marathons — will have no choice but to offer equal prize money to male and female competitors. If they don’t, officials could deny their requests for an event permit or lease. The only problem, according to equal pay advocates: Nothing in the bill, as it’s currently written, prevents organizers from simply holding a single-gender event.

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