By GRACE LIU
This February, UHS alumna Rayka Zehtabchi won the 2019 Oscar award for best documentary short, making her the first Iranian-American woman to win an Oscar. Period. End of Sentence. was initially released in April of 2018 and documents the story of women in a rural village outside of Delhi, India, fighting the stigma of menstruation.
In India, a girl’s period is considered unclean and shameful. Often times, a girl’s first period could mean the end of her education, as highlighted in the trailer for the film, due to the lack of available menstrual products, such as pads or tampons. Instead, as Zehtabchi said in an interview with the International Documentary Organization, girls and women, especially in rural parts of India, resort to “using rags and leaves and even ashes to deal with their period.”
The film follows the rural women in Hapur as a man named Arunachalam Muruganantham, an entrepreneur, brings a pad machine he created for his wife to the village. From there, the women manufacture affordable and biodegradable pads made from locally sourced materials, thus creating a microeconomy. Despite being stricken with poverty, these women are empowered with a way to create income for their families and, at the same time, benefit the girls of the village who then use those pads.
The documentary was made in collaboration with a group of high school girls from Oakwood, a North Hollywood private high school, who started The Pad Project. The project was aimed at increasing access to feminine hygiene products and eliminating the taboo surrounding menstruation. The girls that started this nonprofit organization served as associate producers for the documentary. The documentary was further supported by the parents of the girls, who served as additional producers, accountants, and filled numerous other roles.
This documentary is so significant because it demonstrates women empowering other women. Additionally, it addresses a significant issue – menstruation – that is often seen as taboo, not only in countries like India but also in the United States, where talking about menstruation can often be very uncomfortable. Zehtabchi’s film also discusses the issue of lack of access to feminine hygiene products, which again, is not just an issue in India. In the United States, low-income girls and women, as well as homeless women, also face a lack of these necessary supplies. Even in the United States, girls often miss school because of their period, exemplified by the increased attendance in low-income schools in New York after the introduction of free pad and tampon machines by The Pad Project.
With this documentary, Zehtabchi fights for an increase in the awareness and elimination of the stigma surrounding menstruation and works to inspire women all across the world. The fact that a documentary about periods can win an Oscar, arguably one of the most prestigious awards any film can win, signifies a crucial shift in the Academy to further promote diversity in the industry, as well as to open important dialogues for future generations of filmmakers and audiences.