“We want aurutaa to rise and fly”
The global menstrual health movement won big last night. For the first time, a film about periods has earned an Oscar in 2019. Period. End of Sentence. was awarded best short documentary by the Hollywood Elite. A real grassroots and international effort, the film was funded by students at Oakwood School in Los Angeles and released on Netflix last year.
Before diving in, I’ll make a few notes about language. I used the term ‘aurutaa’ (women in hindi and punjabi) to follow the word choices of people in the movie. In general, not all women bleed from the womb and not all people who bleed are women. So sometimes I will say or write ‘menstruators’. I should also note that in this blog post I use the term ‘Indian’ to describe people who live in the country now called India. The region gained independence from the British Raj in 1947 and was split into India, Pakistan, and neighbouring countries. In the country of Canada where I live, the term ‘Indian’ is also still used in by government to legally distinguish Indigenous peoples on Turtle Island. Finally, there are soooo many names for menstrual products these days in every language. In English, we say pad, tampon, menstrual cup, sanitary pad, feminine hygiene product, and my personal favourite: menstrual product. Can you think of any others?
Capturing the flow.
For those who haven’t watched it, Period. End of Sentence. follows a group of menstrual health activists. They go into a few rural Indian villages to talk about periods and make high quality cotton pads accessible. Through the first few interactions with aurutaa and ahdmia (“men” in Punjabi and Hindi), it becomes clear to us as viewers that periods are not discussed openly or at all. When asked if he knows what a period is, one ahdmi asks “it’s kind of an illness right?” Sneha, a main character, dropped out of school because she wasn’t able to change her menstrual pads or cloths in a safe place. This is a common narrative that circulate in the menstrual movement.
Arunachalam Muruganantham अरुणाचलम मुरुगनाथम lovingly known as Pad Man makes an appearance early on in the film. He confirms that “menstruation is the biggest taboo in [his] country” and shares The Pad Project’s mission to make India a 100-percent napkin using country. The goal is NOT to support huge multinational corporations that make menstrual products. Instead, the Pad Project provides aurutaa simple tools to make their own pads and sell them to the menstruators in their local villages and cities. You have to watch how they make them!!! (I really hope they are using organic cotton that isn’t sprayed with pesticides).
For the remainder of the film, aurutaa work as pad makers, demo facilitators, and sales people to break the taboos about periods in their communities. A highlight for me was when they do a drip comparison between mainstream pads and the ones made by the aurutaa in the villages.
I had so many feels while watching... At first I was terrified it was going to be another representation of an ‘impoverished, underdeveloped country’. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. The diverse group of filmmakers balanced the challenges of aurutaa in rural India with their huge triumphs. The film shows how important it is for all people who menstruate to have access to menstrual products. This seemingly ordinary act of getting a period makes all the difference for people’s self-image, self-esteem, and contribution to our collective society.
My friend Shruti and I share a lot of info back and forth about menstrual health. She sent me a link to an article written by Sinu Joseph, a blogger who did not appreciate Period. End of Sentence. Sinu writes that the film misrepresents the reality of menstrual product use in India. Moreover, they address issues of children’s right. Check out their review here.
One big reason that I started IWP is to go beyond conversations of supplying periods and menstrual products. In my view, the next step is to start sharing knowledge about the menstrual cycle as a whole process. Check out my low barrier menstrual health resource guides here. They start at $2.75 CAN to be as accessible as a tea, coffee, or snack.
The fight for gender equity in Canada and India.
For me, the film really makes obvious the similarities and differences between ideas of gender, sex, and sexuality in Canada and India. In both places, some aurutaa and menstruators are still unable to access menstrual products. Recent Canadian statistics show that 1 in 3 menstruators under the age of 25 have not been able to afford period necessities. I would bet my Diva Cup that those numbers are higher for menstruators of colour and Indigenous menstruators.
In my experience, I also notice people still hesitate to talk about periods in mixed sex and mixed gender environments. In my workshops with menstruators there is a sense of a safe space. However, around the dinner table or a party, I still get looks of discomfort, awkward silences, and quick subject changes in mixed sex and gender environments. Finally, in Canada and India there is resistance to discussing periods and the menstrual cycle with people under the age of 18. It’s almost as if periods don’t matter until it’s time to starting thinking about having sex.
I don’t want to contribute to the stereotypes of rural Indian women as uneducated, and I’m glad that the film handled the topic of ‘education’ without reinforcing this stereotype either. There is such powerful ancestral knowledge held deep in the blood, bones, and spirits of aurutaa. Moreover, the style of education where every sits in desks and gets lectured at by a strict teacher is also not the only way to share knowledge.
However, across time the magic of some aurutaa is caged through unwanted marriages and a controlling global society. I personally attribute this the ways that we all under value house work, make sexual expression taboo, and diminish the power and magic of periods. DM or email me if you want to discuss this particular point so more! Period. End of Sentence shows that societal expectations of heterosexual marriages differ between India and Canada. Ultimately, experiences of periods and menstrual cycles are connected to our sense of self and respect from the collective. What themes of gender equity stood out to you in the film?
And with that, I hope you enjoyed reading my blog post for IM With Periods! Let me know if you found the tips helpful for planning your own self-care routines during your period. You can DM me on Facebook or Instagram or send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about your own cycle or the cycles of partners, sisters, siblings, and friends purchase one of my low cost resource guides.
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