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Melissa Berton and Rayka Zehtabchi accept the award for best documentary short subject for "Period. End of Sentence." at the Oscars on Feb. 24, 2019, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Craig Sjodin/ABC
Water & Sanitation

This Film Breaking Period Taboos in India Just Won an Oscar


Why Global Citizens Should Care
Ensuring access to menstrual hygiene is an important step in achieving gender equality. All women and girls deserve to have access to the products they need to be safe and healthy. You can take action on issues like this here.

Period. End of Sentence., a short film about an Indian activist's sanitary pad-producing machine and how it is impacting women and girls’ lives, has won an Oscar.

The 26-minute documentary, exploring the taboos and stigma around menstruation in India, took home the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short at the ceremony on Sunday night.

“I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything,” said the film’s 25-year-old director Rayka Zehtabchi in her acceptance speech. “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar!”

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Set in a rural village in Hapur, in Uttar Pradesh, the documentary highlights how the pad-making machine affects the lives of women and girls in the village, as they learn to make pads and educate their communities.

The creator of the pad-making machine, Arunachalam Muruganantham, also known as “Padman”, worked on manufacturing and distributing an affordable, high-quality pad for women in India after realizing his wife used a rag during her period — because buying a sanitary pad would negatively impact their milk budget.

He spent years attempting to make the pads, testing them himself using goat blood, despite community backlash. His attempts eventually led to him creating a semi-automated machine that could produce two sanitary napkins per minute, and it won him an award at the National Innovation Foundation of India in 2006, according to NPR.

His story was even turned into a Bollywood hit called Padman, which was released in 2018 and applauded by activists like Malala Yousafzai.

In India, Muruganantham has provided more than 4,000 machines to women, and more than 200 machines to 27 other developing countries since 2006, NPR reported.

Period. End of Sentence. does more than just tell an activist's success story, however — it also sheds light on the importance of tackling menstrual taboos.

“Periods are normal and in no way do they stop us from achieving anything,” producer Guneet Monga reportedly said in a statement. “Every girl in India or anywhere around the world needs to know this and hear this loud and clear. Period is an end of a sentence, but not a girl’s education. Now that we have an Oscar, let’s go change the world.” 

Meanwhile, one anonymous member of the Academy has drawn criticism for his response to the film, after the Hollywood Reporter published his Oscar ballot with his selections. 

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“[I’m not going to vote for] Period. End of Sentence,” he reportedly wrote.“It’s well done, but it’s about women getting their period, and I don’t think any man is voting for this film because it’s just icky for men.” 

The documentary came about after students at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles started working with an organization called Girls Learn International about seven years ago, according to Refinery29.

The students were partnered with an organization in India, and started to raise funds to initially send a single pad-making machine and a year’s worth of supplies to women in Hapur — and the initiative grew from there. 

Period taboos and stigma are creating sometimes life-threatening issues for women and girls, both in India and around the world. 

In India, more than 40% of women aged 15 to 24 don't have any access to period products, according to statistics cited by CNN from the India National Family Health Survey. Nationally, one in five girls drop out of school completely after reaching puberty — often because they don't have access to safe, private, hygienic toilet facilities. 

Meanwhile, many women and girls are also excluded from participating in sports and are shunned from places of worship. 

It's becaue of issues like these that open dialogue is so important — and why a documentary like Period. End of Sentence. could mean big things for health, sanitation, and gender equality.