“I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!”
Last night Rayka Zehtabchi became the first Iranian woman to win an Oscar for her short documentary Period. End of Sentence. Her film, which is set in the rural Indian district of Hapur explores the effects of deep-rooted stigma surrounding menstruation, and the extraordinary impact that the arrival of a sanitary pad-making machine has on the community.
The social stigma attached to menstruation in India Zehtabchi proves to be both intensely powerful and dangerous. For the women of the Hapur District menstruation is a great source of shame. Each month women are deemed unclean and therefore are unable to enter temples to worship and due limited access to sanitary products resort to often unhygienic and ineffective alternatives. Menstruation can even act as a barrier to education, as young girls often remain at home each month, fall behind with their studies, or drop out altogether. Zehtabchi most strikingly illustrates the influence of this insidious social stigma through the word ‘period’s decided absence in speech. The word is banished to the realm of the unspeakable, its presence in conversation is instead signalled by the embarrassed giggles of young girls, feigned ignorance, and eyes that are inexplicably drawn to the floor.
But a revolution is forming in the Hapur District. The arrival of a pad-making machine funded by the organisation The Pad Project also signals the arrival of profound change for this community of women. Through producing and distributing their own sanitary pads women redefine the meanings that are attached to their bodies. It is truly inspirational to witness these women gain financial independence, respect from the men in their community, and discover that there is power in being female. The beauty of this story is utterly matched by Zehtabchi’s cinematography as she expertly captures the vibrancy and colour of life in the district and the warmth and sensitivity with which she treats her subjects fills each frame.
The critical recognition Period. End of Sentence has received feels like an important step in combating the taboo that surrounds menstruation, but it is important to acknowledge that this issue is by no means exclusive to developing countries. Despite more than 800 million women worldwide having a period each month period stigma remains a persistent part of our vernacular. On receiving her award last night Rayka Zehtabchi reminds us of this fact, when through her tears she said ‘I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything…’
If you haven’t already head over to Netflix and give Period. End of Sentence just 25 minutes of your time.