Giving an Academy Award to a documentary about periods set in India will help shatter the monthly shame that impacts millions of women globally, with some even dying in isolation while menstruating, health campaigners said on Monday.
The Netflix film “Period. End of Sentence.,” set in a village in northern India, clinched the Oscar for best short documentary on Sunday, shining a spotlight on a topic rarely discussed openly in the country.
For many women in South Asia, especially adolescent girls, menstruation is shameful and uncomfortable.
From being barred from religious shrines to dietary restrictions to a lack of toilets and sanitary products that prevent them from going to school and work, they face many challenges when they have their periods, health experts say.
“Although this film shows a negative side of India, it will help trigger more conversation about periods – a natural bodily process that is usually talked about in hushed tones, if at all,” said Surbhi Singh, founder of Delhi-based Sachhi Saheli, a charity that raises awareness about menstrual health.
“This will help people look deep within themselves and, hopefully, make them realize how they treat menstruation.”
In rural areas, a lack of awareness and the high cost of pads mean many women instead use unsanitary rags, increasing the risk of infections and disease.
The problem is more dire in Nepal, where an ancient Hindu tradition that banishes women to animal sheds during their periods claims lives year after year as a result of suffocation, animal bites or cold.
Earlier this month, a teenager died sleeping in a hut, becoming the fourth victim in less than a month.
The 26-minute documentary, directed by Rayka Zehtabchi and produced by India’s Guneet Monga, focuses on rural women in Uttar Pradesh state who start a sanitary pad business after generations of limited access to basic hygiene products.
When a sanitary pad vending machine is installed in their village, they decide to make and sell their own brand.
The women follow the lead of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a low-cost machine for manufacturing sanitary pads.
His story inspired Bollywood’s first film on menstrual hygiene, “Padman”, with the popular action hero Akshay Kumar wearing a sanitary pad and talking about periods.
It triggered a nationwide conversation.
“Now, the whole world will turn up and see what is happening. This will help more people to understand the perfect menstrual health hygiene,” Muruganantham, who features in the Oscar-winning film, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.