A documentary on a group of Indian women fighting patriarchy for the right to hygiene and dignity, has just won an Oscar and, rightfully, the nation is rejoicing. It is not often that women from the global south get a voice on as big a platform as the Academy Awards, especially if they hail from impoverished, rural backgrounds as do the protagonists of Period. End of Sentence. But this win is being celebrated in large part because it has thrust onto the global stage a conversation that was — and continues to be in large parts of South Asia — a whispered one.
Because that’s what you have to contend with when you grow up female in South Asia: The belief that menstruation is not a normal biological function. It is a shameful secret, wrapped in a newspaper and slid discreetly across the counter by the chemist. It is an abomination that offends the gods and pollutes the kitchen, and it makes women weak and inferior to men. This is the belief that has denied women, especially in rural India, access to sanitary products, forcing them to make do with cloth rags, sand and sawdust, imperilling their health and damaging their dignity.
The Oscar win couldn’t come at a better time. In the last year alone, the conversation about menstruation has become louder and more public. There was the film Pad Man which sought to normalise period discourse. The Sabarimala controversy, too, centred squarely on the rights of menstruating women, has made clearer than ever before how many women — and men — find menstrual taboos restrictive, discriminatory and plain tedious. With Period… now grabbing the baton, the race towards the end of such beliefs and practices can only get quicker. There must be no more whispering — only loud, impassioned arguing for equal rights to health and dignity.