A retrospective review of the Oscar-winning documentary short on India and menstruation.

I don’t watch many documentaries on Netflix. I believe many other millennials also don’t. However, I still watched Period: End of Sentence for the most millennial reason ever: “hype”.

The film was hyped as it won an Oscar for best short documentary and was based in India. These were enough excuses for me to spend 30 minutes watching this Rayka Zehtabchi directed short feature.

To put it simply, the movie travels across a few North Indian villages and decodes the taboos and stigmatic attitude associated with menstruation prevalent there. There are those typical foreigner-directed Indian film shots like open fields and smiling villagers.

The film shows the sad reality and at the same time, gives optimism with certain figures who are trying to create awareness for menstrual hygiene, workers who are making organic pads in factories and an interview with Arunachalam Muruganantham, the inventor of low-cost sanitary pads (the inspiration behind Akshay Kumar’s Pad Man).

While the fictional Pad Man was preachy and stretched, this movie gets the message straight in its short duration. It shows that the first step towards menstrual hygiene is changing attitudes, simple as that.

The interview snippets feature prude men and women, scared school girls, and unaware boys,  talking about periods with a lot of hesitation. In one of the scenes, a teenager is asked if he knows what periods are, he smiles and asks “School wala period?“. Similarly, another girl answers this by saying that it’s a sickness. Such scenes don’t show any triggering material but the attitudes itself make you feel sad about the reality.

When it released on Netflix, I heard many complain about the director’s approach as she covered only certain areas instead of the whole country. I too wished I could see more being explored about this subject but then, I feel even if she covered one village in half an hour, it’s impactful enough.

If she would have brought out many narratives at once in a short format documentary, it might have ended up looking rushed. Instead, Rayka gives us one example and opens our eyes to see how these villages are a mixed bag of orthodox practitioners as well as unorthodox trailblazers. We have a long way to go but there’s still some hope.

Zayka didn’t feature the extremities of menstrual taboos in rural India with women being killed or denied entry in temples for bleeding. Maybe she chose to ignore it or maybe she didn’t know if this at all. In this regard, yes Period still feels like a more Utopian version of the darker truth.

The Oscar win would again help the First World be more aware of such ground realities in India. I hope Zayka or another filmmaker makes a film on urban attitudes around menstruation (as the so-called English speaking elite also is no less with period stigmas) and other trends.

Period: End of Sentence, isn’t the end of all menstrual discrimination but is definitely a great step forward.

Featured Image Credits- Netflix

Shaurya Singh Thapa
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Poor menstrual hygiene caused by lack of education on the issue, persisting taboos and stigma, and poor sanitation infrastructure makes menstrual health a painful experience for women. 

A world which struggles in basic hygiene and sanitation facilities for women during their periods makes the simple biological phenomenon of menstruation complicated. The nexus of stigma, silence, shame and the notions of impurity associated with it makes the world a difficult place to live in.

However, looking the world through the eyes of a woman makes the whole world different than the what it exists as today, and becomes a place where you need not “WHISPER” your menstrual experiences to “STAY FREE” from stigma.

Rajkumari a resident of K-block in Jahangirpuri, Delhi narrated her experience of menstruation, “I have never used sanitary pads in my life. I just use a cloth and bleed the entire day in a room specifically meant for that”.
This is the story of 82% of India’s women who still don’t have the three basic A’s- Accessibility, Availability, Affordability to safe menstrual hygiene and management. And the social stigma associated with menstruation makes any kind of tangible action on these things ineffective as the women themselves don’t feel confident in having healthy and safe periods. Hence, menstruation is a more of a social issue which is being tackled by many stakeholders like NGOs, college students and government agencies coming together for advocacy and awareness.

Especially the onus is on the University of Delhi students to bring about this silent revolution to de-stigmatize menstruation and spread awareness in their local community to promote menstrual hygiene and management. One such initiative was taken by a group of students of Cluster Innovation Centre who worked on a semester-long project on ground level in slums, government schools, children homes and with visually challenged women to promote menstrual hygiene.
A member of the team, Shambhavi Sharma said, “What is needed is a dialogue, the more open you are about the phenomenon the more natural it becomes. So when we went around the JJ colony areas, Sanskar Ashrams, All India Confederation for Blind or the Government school in Roop Nagar as part of our project, our message was clear.

To make them aware of the physiological aspects of menstruation while focusing on one aspect of menstrual hygiene management that is – hygiene promotion and awareness. The reason being that menstrual hygiene related infections are seldom talked about yet prevalent.”

The discussions around menstruation should be normalised including the active participation of the male members to promote menstrual hygiene and management.
Another team member, Kartik Krishnan added, “I believe that men should support women and girls to manage menstruation effectively in the household, community, school, and workplace. A lot of things like not being hesitant or shy in buying a pad for a female friend, family member etc. makes the discussion more gender neutral. Therefore, young boys need to be taught to be more mature towards MHM (Menstrual Hygiene Management).”

However, this is not the complete picture of the scenario. While more than 80% of the female population still struggles for basic menstrual hygiene facilities, it is the irony of the situation that the 18% of the privileged female population who have access to safe menstrual hygiene contribute to 80% of the non-biodegradable menstrual waste. Sustainable menstruation methods are essential for the environment and are more economically cheaper than the prolonged use of sanitary napkins contributing to increased plastic generation.
Arundhati Subhedar, a student of Lady Shri Ram College, took up the initiative to spread awareness on sustainable methods for menstruation through her initiative- BLOOD. “I have been trying to promote eco-friendly periods. Sanitary napkins and tampons are a huge hassle for the environment.

Alternatives for these are menstrual cups and cloth pads, both of which are reusable, comparatively cheaper and healthier for a person” said Arundhati.
Educated and well-informed women of India need to make smarter choices keeping these things in mind.

Therefore, the biological phenomenon of menstruation incorporates several social, economic and environmental factors with it. Modern and scientific methods have to be adopted and their accessibility should be ensured as it is the basic right of every woman.
Today, on the menstrual hygiene management day let us take it upon ourselves to spread awareness on safe menstrual hygiene and management in our own community and help every woman to have a HAPPY PERIOD in its true essence.

Feature Image Credits: medium

Sriya Rane
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Generation gaps, class, caste, and religion all meddle with open conversations on menstrual health, thus impacting menstrual hygiene. Read on to find out how.

Universities and schools should ideally provide spaces for the evolution of conditioning, and understanding menstruation as it is – a biological process that does not need to be glorified, or demeaned. Saman Waheed, a first-year student of English at Lady Shri Ram College (LSR), gives credit to her school back in Lucknow for sensitising her to the natural nature of menstruation, acknowledging that about half a decade ago, she herself considered it to be a taboo not for public discussions. However, the lack of pad dispensers in the LSR campus and the absolute absence of those from the hostel bothers her. A student from Lakshmibai College stated that the college did not have pad dispensers until very recent times of her being in the college, and has unhinged doors that make students uncomfortable. Upasana Sasidharan, a PhD scholar at Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research, Bhopal, says, “There are absolutely no dispensers on campus. I’m just glad we have dustbins in washrooms, honestly.” All this indicates the callousness of practically recognising menstrual health significant enough, even in all-women colleges.

Another thread of period-related conversations is social class access. An incident in Zamrudpur Development Programme , an NGO visited by DU students as well, related a girl who didn’t come for class once, and the reason cited for her absence by an acquaintance of hers was that the girl had her hafta (week) – commonly used to refer to periods- going on. Rupi Kaur may be able to capitalise her writing based on her Instagram picture of spotted pants, but religious and cultural beliefs even in ostensibly progressive families create a sense of seclusion for menstruating women. My own well-read family with class privilege doesn’t feel comfortable with me touching sacred items (sweet offerings, garlands, etc.) when I menstruate.

Isha Yadav, a feminist research scholar and a professor from Delhi, started a WhatsApp group named Periodlogue in 2017 because she was told to “rant off her PMS-ing elsewhere” by her friend. The group started as a safe space for ‘period talk’ that wouldn’t be dismissed as hormonal rant, and currently includes over 75 women from different professions, ages, and backgrounds, who express themselves when in menstrual pain, seek answers on female reproductive health, and do not believe in hiding menstruation in blue pads. The group empowers its members, but the need for alternative spaces to hold non-judgmental discourses points to the fact that the mainstream spaces have not been kind or inclusive enough for women even in the twenty-first century.

Writing this article about conversations on menstruation and sanitation is a form of privilege in itself. Whether it is educating someone else, or becoming more aware of the realities, there is no denying of the social conditioning that all of us have undergone at least in some sphere of our lives, which treats menstruation as a dirty taboo. To be able to break through that is commendable, but must be acknowledged as a possibility that is not open to many others.

Image Credits: Newsweek

Anushree Joshi

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When I was naïve and young, the period advertisements which reeked off inconvenience brought monthly by a blue liquid were processed unconsciously and deceptively. Nothing seemed out of place or fundamentally wrong; it was as normal as the misogyny plaguing the air or the bemused expression on your face if you’re reading and wondering the purpose of this article. And then five years ago, when the clutches of the menarche gripped me in a cycle of blood and cramps, all that was left unprocessed by the child in front of the television watching that horribly fallacious advertisement was slowly and carefully absorbed.

Questions and disconcerting thoughts rushed and stained the ‘untainted’ furnishings of my mind, just like the blood gushes out of my vagina every 28 days; brimming with an unsolicited arrival of your disgust and stereotypes, carefully wrapped in fear and shame.

Class 8th, NCERT Science Textbook, Chapter 9: Reproduction in Animals. You do remember it, don’t you? Or at least I do, all your incessant giggles and sly glances at your fellow partners-in-crime (and subsequent shaming) while I continued to stare at the textbook and wonder why the graphic representation of my body, our bodies, amuses you so much. And when we turned the page to encounter the diagram of my vagina and how the destruction of its walls causes blood to flow from the organ you steal glances at, your laughs grew loose and less restrained. All knowledge is precious and rewarding, but your knowledge of my body seemed pejorative, unnatural. The education system was supposed to impart you with the foundational Biological knowledge of the reproductive system, a body of study as basic and normal as your mockery and subversion of what makes me a girl, a woman.

When I was 12 years old, I got my first period. The idea didn’t scare me; I remember my sister venturing to engineer a sanitary napkin, and the scenario where I was old enough to use one fascinated me. But all those packets delivered wrapped in newspapers or black polybags made me wonder why the protection which was being offered for the hygiene of my vagina was being shielded from the world. The ideas of discreteness and not showing that my body was functioning as it is supposed to were later fed to me. The bloody occurrences at school subsequently led me to hide those green packets of shame between my notebooks or in my bag, because if you saw them, what would you think? This monthly guest is a harbinger of my good health, and as normal as the game of hide-and-seek you want me to play to refute consciousness of my womanhood.

I stained my skirt for the first time when I was 13. Blood soiled through my clothes, that was the first time I cried because every inch of my existence told me I was supposed to cry. Why? Menstrual shaming. People saw what wasn’t for their eyes to see or acknowledge, those blotches of dirt smeared across me. The blood which so organically sprouted from between my legs was supposed to be kept hidden away in all those debasing advertisements and societal prejudices which I am expected to conform to everyday. What happens between the legs, stays out of your conscience and with your misconceptions. Unfortunately, your endeavours in keeping my body a formidable piece of enigma to the world influenced how I felt about discovering parts of myself, about my body as a whole. Wasn’t the idea of wanting to know about the sexual contours of my existence supposed to be as normal as your desire of keeping this whirlwind inside me a mystery?

Cut to today, when I have managed to build bridges away from your derogatory ideologies, and internet campaigns and a growing mindfulness of the fallen pieces of your misogynistic jenga have caused a wave of revolution. The matters of my vagina, the leaking and the seeping, might allude to an imagery of dirt and disgust, and the patriarchal constructs you continue to espouse allow you to attribute your derision as the abjection of my elemental structuring. Obviously, it’s nothing ‘personal’; just how your view of this beautiful construct of womanhood as impure and dirty reeks off a biased stench of stigma and injustice. I’ve never been a devout anything; for any religion which casts me off as dirty because I bleed because my body chooses to be healthy needs to be questioned instead of being cited as the reason for your derision.

What you’ve normalised through years, I wish to extract that drop by drop, and fill that void with the reality millions of women like me face. 12% of those who bleed don’t even have the privilege of using that sanitary napkin or tampon you want me to so masterfully conceal. With every eye you turn or every fallacious idea you seek to spread about the normalcy of my periods, you choose to deny millions of girls and women the right to an emotionally and physically healthy exploration of a journey they will traverse over the next few decades.

And thus, I reject the keyhole through which you choose to view this ‘unnatural’ phenomenon. We’re not dirty, we’re not impure, and your face shouldn’t wrinkle up in disgust when we talk about menstruation. We’re healthy, we’re powerful, and the next time you spot us hiding our wonder, tell us we’re strong and talk to us like we’re normal.


Feature Image Credits: The News Minute

Saumya Kalia

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