Among the winners of this year’s Academy Awards was Period. End of Sentence, a documentary short that tells the story of one Indian village’s brave quest to end the stigma surrounding menstruation. The film opens with snippets of interviews with various members of a rural village in the Hapur district of India about 60 kilometers outside of New Delhi. A group of young schoolgirls bow their heads and giggle nervously when they are asked by the foreign interviewer what a period is. An older woman, in response to the same question, answers with silence and appears to have tears in her eyes. A row of teenage boys, when asked if they have ever heard of menstruation, respond by guessing that it is “some sort of illness.”
I have to admit that I was quite taken back by their responses. As a millennial female who grew up immersed in Western culture, I trust that my teenage self would have answered those same questions much differently (though I do wonder if my mother could say the same thing about her teenage self). I remember learning about menstruation in sex education class in middle school. I admittedly blushed when my parents sat me down to answer whatever questions I had on the topic. I even came home to a bouquet of flowers after making the rite of passage into womanhood myself (this was maybe a little over the top!). The US undoubtedly still has progress to make when it comes to central issues regarding women’s health, but I appreciate that it is a relative luxury to be able to discuss and debate these issues openly.
The film highlights a sad and unfair truth: for some of these women, their schooling ends when their periods arrive. Without access to menstrual hygiene products like pads, a girl from the village explains that she eventually stopped going to school because she could not properly manage her periods. Imagine the ripple effect for this young woman and so many young women like her. Without an education, her earning capacity is severely decreased. Her financial security becomes inextricably linked to her future husband’s. And this is where the film’s story takes shape: women from the village band together to start manufacturing pads. They sell them from door-to-door and to local shopkeepers. They teach schoolgirls and their mothers and aunts how to use them. What a beautiful and seemingly simple intervention from within the community: give girls pads, and they can continue to go to school.
But the film left me wondering: are these girls truly guaranteed an education now that they have access to pads? Or are there additional reasons as to why these girls might be forced to drop out of school? What about the expectations of household work, marriage or pregnancy? Sitting on my couch, exhausted from my duties as a resident and a new mother, this film had me counting my blessings and wishing that it were different for so many young women around the globe. Yes, a girl should never have to drop out of school because of her period. But really, a girl should never have to drop out of school. Period.