This project is changing access to sanitary products for women across the world.

By By Emily Shiffer
Updated: February 26, 2019

"I'm not crying because I'm on my period or anything. I can't believe a film on menstruation won an Oscar."

That's how Iranian-American filmmaker Rayka Zehtabchi tearfully collected the Oscar for Documentary Short Subject for her film Period. End of Sentence. The 26-minute film (which you can watch on Netflix) aims to help end the stigma associated with menstruation and raise awareness about the lack of access to sanitary menstruation products in rural areas and developing countries.

The Story of Period. End of Sentence.

The now-Oscar-winning film started as part of The Pad Project, an initiative started by members of the Girls Learn International club at Oakwood School in Los Angeles. The high schoolers decided they wanted to install a sanitary pad-manufacturing machine in the village of Hapur, India, and create a documentary about its effects on the local population. The machine would provide access to low-cost pads for local women and girls in a place where they were desperately needed. The students funded their project through bake sales, Kickstarter, and yoga-thons, raising over $150,000, and eventually becoming a registered nonprofit officially called The Pad Project.

The film follows the women in Hapur as they learn to manufacture and market their own pads (which they brand as FLY pads) in their village. They're employed and trained to make the pads from scratch, and the finished product looks much like a pad you can purchase in the U.S. Then they travel to local villages to sell them (even demonstrating how to use them, since many women in the area have never used pads before), and encourage women and shop owners to purchase their products.

The 25-minute documentary packs all the power of a feature-length film, and will have you feeling #blessed that you not only have tampons, pads, and menstrual cups readily available but that you also have the ability to keep living your life when you're on your period-a luxury not available to women in other areas of the world. (Related: THINX Just Launched the First FDA-Cleared Reusable Tampon Applicator)

Here, five things to know about the inspiring documentary and how you can help support the mission.

1. Lack of sanitary products isn't just frustrating-it's dangerous.

Since sanitary pads aren't available in many villages in India, women have turned to unhealthy alternatives like dirty rags, leaves, or ashes, increasing their risk of infection every time their period comes, according to The Pad Project. (Related: Female Inmates Finally Have Access to Free Pads and Tampons In Federal Prisons)

"We just find whatever we can at home," explains Rekha, an Indian woman in the film. "We use some of the cotton clothing that has gotten old. In the evening, when no one is around, we throw them away. And then Ruby and Jackie [their dogs] pick them up and take them away. It's embarrassing."

"The women realize they are bleeding, and they use whatever cloth they can lay their hands on," explains Shabana, a local health educator. "You can imagine how harmful and dangerous that can be. Initially, in our meetings, we say the cloth should be washed, and that it shouldn't be dirty."

The good news: The Pad Project is changing that. "Now, we talk about pads," says Shabana. "But there's a lot of change that still needs to happen." (Related: What You Need to Know About "Period Poverty")

2. Menstruation is called "the biggest taboo."

Though the U.S. is a couple years into a #periodpride movement, much of the world's narrative around periods involves shame and secrecy, according to The Pad Project. The film focuses on the shame around menstruation and how that, in turn, oppresses women in the community. It opens with groups of women being asked to talk about what periods and menstruation are. Many are giggling, not responding, or have their heads down. An older woman says that menstruation is "something only God knows. It's the dirty blood that is released." Another woman says: "Babies are born because of it, and this is all I know."

In the film, four young men are also asked about periods and menstruation: "Like a class period, when the school bell rings?" one says. Another replies: "I've heard it affects women, and it's an illness."

"The daughter never talks to the mother, the wife never talks to the husband, and friends don't talk to each other," says Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who invented the low-cost sanitary napkin manufacturing machine that was installed in the Hapur village. "Menstruation is the biggest taboo in my country." (Related: Why #PeriodPride Is an Essential Part of the Body Positive Movement)

When the pad machine is brought into the village, many men say that it is for children, calling them diapers, embarrassed to discuss what they are really for.

3. Even if sanitary products are available, women can't always buy and use them.

Less than 10 percent of women in India use sanitary pads, according to Muruganantham. His goal is to get 100 percent of women using them and talking about menstruation, which is why he invented the machine.

Even with the new pads available, it can be too shameful or embarrassing for women to buy pads from shops. Even the women selling FLY pads door-to-door (in an effort to reach as many women as possible) find that some women are too embarrassed to talk with them. The women also host educational events in different villages, where women have the opportunity to buy pads in a setting among other women.

"Girls find it difficult to buy it from the shops because there are men around. If they find out a woman is selling these things, it will be easier for them," says Shabana. "It is only like this right now. I don't think we will have to go door-to-door to sell them for very long. Soon, the people will come to us."

Each machine and accompanying materials cost a total of $12,000 to install in each community, according to The Pad Project. After one year, the machine should become profitable and create a microeconomy for the women in the area.

4. Menstruation is getting in the way of some women's education.

The film shares the story of a young woman who dropped out of school due to difficulties dealing with and shame surrounding her period.

"I studied until I reached middle school, but when I started having periods it became difficult," she said in the film. "The problem was that during the periods it was difficult to change the napkins...I had to go quite far, it was extremely difficult. The cloth I used got wet quickly, which means I had to change it quite often, which means I had to leave frequently. It became too bothersome. Then there were the young men and boys around. They would look at us. How were we supposed to change in front of them? I waited a year after the period started for things to change. When things didn't change, I felt it was too difficult so I dropped out."

"Our biggest hope is to get as many people as involved as possible so that no girl will ever have to miss school because of her period again," says The Pad Project's website. They note that this happens in low-income areas in the U.S., too, and that they're also raising money to help women domestically. (Did you know Scotland is making period products free for students?)

5. Employment earns them respect and empowerment.

One woman who helps to manufacture the pads said, "I gained respect in the eyes of my husband since I started earning there. Earlier, I used to sit idle at home. It feels good. Now, he respects me."

Another woman shared: "My younger brother came to visit. I bought clothes for him, I bought him a suit. Usually, it's brothers who buy clothes for sisters, not a sister buying clothes for her brother. I told him I could do it because I had earned some money."

For some women, it was their first paid job ever.

If you'd like to support women by helping The Pad Project install sanitary napkin manufacturing machines around the world, visit The Pad Project. They offer three ways for you to get involved: Spread awareness via social media (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter); donate money for machines, supplies, and educators; or start your own Pad Project initiative.

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