Ballet class is what gets me through the day on Mondays and Wednesdays, and it takes a lot for me to skip it. Last week, I found myself walking straight past the building and into my dorm instead of attending. Why? I was on my period. I was experiencing an intense migraine, lower back pain, nausea, and extreme cramps. The last thing I wanted to do was change into a leotard and tights and take my ballet class.
My period symptoms are debilitating to the point that they stop me from doing what I love. Here’s the thing: I am privileged. I have access to feminine care products and pain medication. Even with that privilege, my period was borderline unbearable. That realization got me thinking about how big of a hindrance a period is for a woman in a developing country who does not have access to feminine care products and medication.
While looking into that realization further, I came across the Oscar-winning short documentary, “Period. End of Sentence.” It is available on Netflix, and it sheds light on the severe stigma surrounding periods in India.
The documentary emphasized how lucky I am that access to tampons and pads have never truly been a concern. While the women in developing nations have to worry about dealing with a lack of feminine care products, I can focus on coping with the symptoms.
The documentary showed the stories of many girls who were forced to drop out of school because of how bothersome their periods are. These individuals cannot even attend school, let alone have the time and energy to devote to extracurriculars like my ballet class. Things were put into perspective for me, as the women interviewed thought that menstruation was a disease, or something “only God knows” the reasoning for.
During their periods, women are not allowed into a temple because they are considered dirty. They are told that their prayers are not heard. The girls in these areas must resort to using any old cloth they can find as feminine care products. Stigma and lack of access combine to create a society where women are shunned simply for being women.
Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented the low-cost sanitary napkin machine and is known as India’s Pad Man, says that “The daughter never talks to the mother, the wife never talks to the husband. Friends don’t talk to each other. Menstruation is the biggest taboo in my country.” With time, however, women are starting to lessen the stigma surrounding periods in developing nations by manufacturing cost-effective pads.
While I contemplate going to dance, a girl across the globe is contemplating dropping out of school. While I buy tampons in a convenience store, that same girl is creating her own pad from scratch. Something I barely think about doing is a constant battle for these women.
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Recognizing the dedication that women in developing countries have towards diminishing the stigma of menstruation is incredibly important. Supporting women and girls during this social shift is the first step to making sure, as producer Melissa Burton said in her Oscars acceptance speech, that “a period… end[s] a sentence, not a girl’s education.”