Period. The Beginning of Trauma
Not bragging, but I was lucky to be born into a family that celebrated my first period. Of course it was followed by a long, in-depth conversation with my mother who prepared me emotionally and mentally to enter puberty. While Maa iterated hygienic ways to manage it; it irked me when my grandmother instructed me customs that I needed to practice as a “Brahmin girl” during those 5 days every month. However, I was comforted by two strong individuals as parents who repeatedly reminded me that period is a normal biological process, I was not “impure”, and I need not follow any customs to avoid cultural complications.
Fast forward to 2010 when I started interacting with girls and women from marginalized urban and rural communities, stories of feeling like an ‘outcast’ started unfolding. “You are on your period- don’t enter a religious shrine, don’t touch the pickle, don’t enter kitchen, it’s bad blood, stay away from boys”. Even today, 71% of girls in India have no prior information on menstruation before their first cycle. Despite burgeoning non- profits working on menstrual hygiene, girls feel fear when they see blood on their clothing, they drop out of school, and are not permitted to enter a kitchen or temple during those 5 days. The other truth attached with menstruating girls in India- 70% of them cannot afford sanitary products. Keeping these facts in consideration, I decided to watch the Documentary Period. End of Sentence. I was thrilled to see a movie on a poignant issue – win an Oscar.
The story started with camera focusing on boys and girls- asking them about period, is it a good/ bad thing, where did hear about it? I wasn’t surprised to see that most of the answers revolved around thought processes like- ‘it as an illness, or something not to be spoken about publicly’. The movie eventually graduated to investigate cultural norms(let’s say issues) attached to period. I smiled as I saw the dedicated team digging into the root causes behind the shame attached to menstruation. However, the film’s next shift focused on the production and distribution of sanitary pads by women in the village under the supervision of a nonprofit. This shift was slightly disturbing for someone who believes awareness generation is more vital than easy provisions. Yes, access to cheap and high quality sanitary products in rural communities is essential but what about eradication of perennial cultural norms that harm women and girls- socially, mentally and physically?
When I watch movies on social issues, I wonder why the focus is only on the problem and not on solutions? Menstruation has become a social issue and national concern in a country with a great history. Not everyone has parents like me who have normalized topics that are otherwise cultural taboo. In 2017, periods became a part of the Indian political discussion after a woman entered a male-only temple with a blood stained pad. I salute her! Why not? I mean bleeding is not an issue, but shaming me because I bleed every month is a social concern.
We have several nonprofits in India creating low cost high quality pads for women and girls. In my opinion, the discomfort surrounding menstruation is not because of the low accessibility of sanitary pads; it is due to concrete mindset of our communities. We still have schools where girls are taught about periods. Where are the boys in these discussions? Why aren’t they educated on periods? Isn't it important to explain to them what a girl’s body goes through during these 5 days?
I know the movie was made for an international audience, where they wanted to put a spotlight on cultural and social norms that women must trail while they are on their periods. But do you think providing them with sanitary pads is the only solution to eradicate a culturally deep seated issue? Do you think asking women to work in the pad production unit will lead to an improved understanding on menstruation? Why not include men in the production unit or the focused group discussion to talk about the importance of menstruation/ to abolish stigma attached to women’s reproductive health. Approaching the issue from a gender and development idea can benefit the current situation of women during their periods. The change is not possible if a nonprofit is only distributing pads.must happen at policy level, at a community level and at the household level. Laws should be enforced on religious shrines to remove restrictions for women on their periods, or clean toilets should be built in schools to encourage girls to continue with their education even after their puberty. It is high time that we should start creating strategic solutions to these problems by showcasing it through movies rather than just painting a picture of the issue.