India-based documentary film ‘Period. End of Sentence’ by Rayka Zehtabchi won the Best Short Documentary at the 91 Annual Academy Awards on Monday. Menstrual equality campaigners and activists in the city say that the 26-minute long film, shot in Hapur, near Delhi, will help boost talks about menstrual hygiene.
While films like ‘Padman’ normalised conversations about menstruation, myths around menstruation exist even in urban spaces like Bengaluru. These should be discussed openly, say activists.
Urmila Chanam, founder and CEO, Breaking the Silence: End Myths & Taboos on Menstruation says that films help work at grassroot levels. “The movie winning an Oscar and a jury in favour of this subject, which is unheard of, is quite encouraging. The film was by a female director which also steers ahead menstrual and gender equality,” she says.
She says that ‘Padman’ and ‘Period. End of Sentence’ are different. “The former, though being about women issues, spoke about a man’s story. It was focused on the product and was pad-centric. But in ‘Period...’, conversations about lifting taboos and myths and ignorance among people are addressed,” she says.
Myths exist in Bengaluru too, she says.
“I have a female biker friend who spoke about how she is not allowed inside the house while she is menstruating and wanted to know if this film would change her mother-in-law’s mindset. A gynaecologist friend migrated to the US a year ago as a respite against the ‘Not touching utensils’ rule at home,” she narrates.
Exclusion and isolation of women during this period are also a challenge. “There are many who follow a different and lean diet and are not allowed to mix with other family members, or even take baths. Watering plants or participating in pujas is also a strict no-no for many,” she details.
People are ready to use expensive menstrual products and dispose them off properly but conversations about human rights and equality is still a concern.
“Our education boards and families need to create awareness about menstruation and psychological changes among young girls and boys too at an early age,” she says.
Menstrual management is a task when menstruation by itself is still considered a disease or illness, says Vandana Boggaram, founder of World of Women.
“We interact with rural women and explain to them about health concerns like mood swings, needs for nutrition and occurrence of cramps during menstruation. We teach women and young girls about how to manage these biological changes. We reach out to city-based government schools and colleges, factory workers and destitute homes. In schools and colleges, we hand out annual kits which contain pads and other requirements, that help girls throughout the year,” she says.
Vandana feels that ‘Padman’ helped men open up to the menstrual hygiene cause and concerns and the award for ‘Period...’ is a push ahead.
Dr Sriprada Vinekar, Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Apollo Hospitals says that one’s education has no relation to these myths.
“Even some highly-educated people assume that the more a woman bleeds, the more impure blood and toxins are flushed out of the body. Many do not realise that it is a lining of the uterus shedding. This leads to many women not consulting us in time when they have heavy bleeding,” she says.
“Often it takes some time for adolescents to have regular and healthy menstruation. They have heavy bleeding but the parents don’t bring them in. Sometimes their haemoglobin levels drop drastically,” she says.
Even when medicines are suggested, around 60 percent of the patients hesitate to take them. Sriprada adds, “Children now often start their periods between the age of 10 to 12 and there are parents who try to delay their child’s period. Around 90 percent of mothers come asking if menarche can be delayed.”
A push for sustainable methods
Kala Charlu, founder of MITU Foundation, which works with implementing partner Sukhibhava, says that they are focussing on encouraging women to use cloth pads instead of sanitary napkins.
“When menstrual hygiene was being addressed initially, sanitary napkins were being encouraged. Now we are encouraging people to go back to using cloth pads and menstrual cups effectively, to avoid adding on to landfills,” she says.
“We are starting a new initiative - ‘Men and menstruation’ - in schools to create awareness among young men.”
After the Oscars were announced, Padman-starrer Akshay Kumar tweeted: “Congratulations to @guneetm and the entire team of #PeriodEndOfSentence for winning big at the #Oscars! Much needed topic of discussion and well-deserved win”