Period. End of Sentence is a mere 26 minutes long film, but that’s long enough to tell how something as simple as a sanitary pad can change the lives of women. It won the 2019 Oscar for Best Documentary Short Subject. Receiving the statuette, the film’s creator and director, Rayka Zehtabchi, exclaimed: “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar”.
Despite the subject matter – a taboo that doesn’t exist only in India villages but all over the world, and the devastating impact that it has had on women and their social standing – and despite the battle that these women continually face in order to claim basic sanitary products, Period. End of Sentence, is a story of hope and celebration.
In the documentary, the girls interviewed in an India village giggle and cover their faces when the subject is mentioned. They say they are embarrassed. To the question “What happens in the body?”, one answers: “Only God knows”. An elder says that women don’t go to the temple during their period because they are unclean. Outside the room, a group of young men are also asked to define menstruation. One declares: “It’s some kind of illness that mostly affects girls”.
In a direct and non-judgmental approach, Rayka, who’s Iranian-American, shows there is much ignorance and stigma about menstruation. Barely facing the camera, the women hesitate but then confess they use of folded rags inside their panties and how they go out late at night to dump them in faraway piles of garbage, ashamed that men might see them. A girl says that she dropped out of high school because of the stress of missing one week of classes every month or having to frequently hide from the boys to change her dirty cloth.
Among the revelations in the documentary is the admission that only 10 percent of women in India have access to affordable sanitary products. There are reasons why: lack of information; menstruation is seen as a cultural taboo; financial problems. Young girls, maybe as many as half of whom drop out of school once they begin menstruating, limit their career prospects. They become uneducated, unemployed brides, nothing is learned, and the cycle begins anew.
Arunachalam Muruganantham, called “Pad Man”, is an Indian who created and installs easy-to-operate machines in rural areas that provide cheap sanitary supplies to the local women, who are taught to operate the machines and sell the products at a highly affordable rate. Thus, a business has been created, one which educates and provides a sustainable source of income and necessary supplies to women who would otherwise have neither. Other results: by teaching women that they don’t have to use rags to manage their periods, young girls are, by extension, being taught that menstruation is not an illness, but a perfectly normal bodily function.
When Muruganantham installs his machine in a village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering them financially as workers and as a sales force, and also in terms of self-confidence. The women name their brand “FLY” because they want women to rise and fly.
Their flight is in part enabled by fundraising by girls from Oakwood School in Los Angeles, led by Melissa Berton, a teacher who raised the initial money ($11,000) for one machine and one year’s worth of supply, and began a nonprofit called “The Pad Project”.
The machine invented by Muruganantham transforms the cellulose in pine wood from local trees into a fluffy white mass that will become the absorbent inside of each pad. It is covered by layers of cloth and sealed. By the end of the documentary, he says: “Women don’t know how powerful they are. Women are the base of any society”