“A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”
Isn’t that a great quote? I wish I could take credit for saying it, but those are the words of producer Melissa Berton, whose film Period. End of Sentence won Best Documentary Short at the 2019 Academy Awards. Yes, a film about periods won an Oscar. Why are we making films about periods, you might wonder? Because unfortunately, there is still a lot of stigma and misinformation about a natural bodily function that has existed since the dawn of time. (If you don’t believe me, go read this article, and come back here after you’re done rolling your eyes right into the back of your head.)
Berton’s film highlights how the lives and education of young women in developing countries can be negatively impacted by menstruation. For example, only 10% of women in India have access to affordable sanitary supplies, which means many have to use old rags, leaves or even ashes to manage their period’s flow. In Kenya, the number of school-aged girls who don’t have access to menstrual supplies is closer to 50%. What happens when girls can’t manage their periods while going to school? They stop going to school. When the necessary supplies and understanding of periods aren't made available to school girls, it’s not periods that get removed from the equation. The film estimates that anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of girls in India will drop out of school after they begin menstruating. And by not going to school, these girls open their lives up to underage marriage, pregnancy and its ensuing health complications, a lack of job skills, and other consequences that can have a negative impact on their life.
It’s not only a lack of supplies that stops girls from going to school. Somehow, in the 21st century, there are still entire communities that believe periods are “dirty”, “shameful” and basically something akin to witchcraft. Apparently, ensuring that other (i.e. male) students are not uncomfortable with being around a menstruating girl is more important that allowing that girl to learn math. Folks, menstrual shame has got to end. It is literally the process that facilitates human life. Is the fact that you’re alive thanks to this basic human function something “icky”? Blood is blood, no matter who or where it comes from. If I cut my finger, should I be ashamed of the blood that comes out and forced to abandon my education? Preventing access to proper information and supplies about periods is damaging to the entire community, not just the girls. Here's an interesting statistic highlighted by the film: if the number of girls attending secondary school increased by just 1%, the jobs created would increase the GDP of India by $5.5 billion. Why wouldn’t India want that for their economy?
So, what can we do over here in the Western hemisphere to help this situation? To start with, learn about The Pad Project, an initiative started to not only create biodegradable pads for women in developing countries, but also to provide jobs to the women affected in these communities. There are plenty of other organizations like the United Nations Population Fund, where you can learn more information and find opportunities to donate. And it’s not just a problem for underdeveloped countries – contact a woman’s shelter in your own neighbourhood. I’m sure they would be more than happy to accept donations of tampons or pads, or a monetary donation that could go towards purchasing these supplies. Women in all parts of the world should be able to have full access to information, education, and jobs no matter what time of the month it is. Period. End of sentence.
Written by: Crystal Wood