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In a rural village outside Delhi, India, women lead a quiet revolution. They fight against the deeply rooted stigma of menstruation. Period. End of Sentence. — a documentary short directed by Rayka Zehtabchi — tells their story. For generations, these women didn’t have access to pads, which lead to health problems and girls missing school or dropping out entirely. But when a sanitary pad machine is installed in the village, the women learn to manufacture and market their own pads, empowering the women of their community. They name their brand “FLY,” because they want women “to soar.”

Their flight is, in part, enabled by the work of high school girls half a world away, in California, who raised the initial money for the machine and began a non-profit called “The Pad Project.”

 

The Story Behind Period. End of Sentence.
Period. End of Sentence. the documentary, began with a group of young feminist students from Oakwood High School in Los Angeles, who wanted to know why girls in their partner schools abroad — in countries as far reaching as India, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone — were leaving school at an alarming rate, just after they started to get their periods. The Oakwood students discovered there was a severe lack of access to sanitary products and an even greater dearth of educational health awareness in many of these communities. The Oakwood students learned their counterparts often felt ashamed of their periods and would be rendered helpless by this natural process of womanhood. Consequently, period-shaming was reaching epic proportions and stories of suicides in Indian villages attributed to this were increasing. Diving into the statistics, the students learned in developing countries, like India, between 25% and 57% of adolescent girls miss school or drop out altogether because of their periods. If girls receive seven full years of education, they will marry an average of four years later and have 2.2 fewer children. If they attend only one additional year of secondary school, their lifetime wages could increase by up to 20%, consequently raising their country’s GDP by billions of dollars. This means if India enrolled just 1% more girls in school, their GDP would rise by $5.5 billion. This is an example of the concrete economic and social impact on individuals, communities and nations. Just as importantly, a complete education provides young girls in harsh circumstances with financial security, knowledge about the world and a sense of self.

With urgent curiosity and progressive awareness, the Oakwood students wanted to take action. The group was already involved with the Feminist Majority Foundation’s high school program, Girls Learn International (GLI). They worked closely with the FMF to research and ultimately purchase a locally-manufactured machine that can produce sanitary pads for an entire rural village. This business-in-a-box could also offer an additional opportunity for the women of these communities: A micro-business making and selling the pads. The pad machine was created and produced by Indian-inventor Arunachalam Muruganatham, who is affectionately known as The Pad Man. It is easy to operate, only requiring locally-sourced, natural resources and a small amount of electricity to function and can be set up in a home or semi-permanent location. Once the machine is up and running, the women are able to bring pads to the villagers at approximately 5 cents a unit, a stunningly low cost. In addition to the economic incentive, the pad machine makes the product more easily accessible, thus empowering women and girls to feel comfortable with their bodies, avoiding period-shaming and continuing their education.

Armed with this plan, the Oakwood students embarked on a fundraising journey with vegan bake sales, yoga-thons and two successful Kickstarter campaigns in order to fund the machine and its supplies. Aware that their efforts could have a greater impact by sharing this journey on a more amplified scale, the girls produced a documentary that they hoped would encourage others to join this philanthropic effort. Now producers themselves, the students hired director Rayka Zehtabchi, a recent graduate of USC film school and a young female writer, director and producer. Zehtabchi spent a great deal of time with the core group of students who shared their ideas for the film and discussed their fears of being perceived as “white saviors” in the process. Zehtabchi helped craft the narrative and then travelled to Hapur to begin filming. The producers researched and arranged what would become a lasting NGO partnership with Action India to forge educational links with the most needy and deserving women and girls in the villages outside New Delhi, specifically the village of Hapur. They also established an official 501c3 nonprofit to continue elevating awareness about period-shaming and to raise funds to provide pad machines in other areas where a need is identified around the world. Period. End of Sentence. screened across the United States at film festivals throughout the summer and fall of 2018. The film continues to inspire students to realize their power in thinking globally and recognize the impact young women can create. As Muruganatham says, “The strongest creature on Earth is not the elephant, not the tiger, but the girl.”

This article, provided by Netflix, was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

 

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