For women's history month, I want to talk about not just one woman, but a group of women, who've inspired me this March.
I don't give much too much thought about my period on a day to day basis. I talk about it with my girlfriends (and to only my girlfriends), and those moments primarily consist of complaints about desperate chocolate cravings and how I burst into tears 10 times while watching How to Train Your Dragon. I'm privileged enough that my office provides free tampons and pads so I don't need to fret over bloody surprises at work. And even if I had to, I could run to the nearest pharmacy or discreetly ask a female friend if she could spare an extra.
But this isn't the reality for many girls in the world. For many women, menstruation is a taboo which imposes adverse effects on their everyday lives.
The Pad Project, a club at Oakwood School based in North Hollywood, was launched in 2016 by a student who decided to take action after learning about the struggles of these girls and women. The school club raised enough money to send a low-tech pad-making machine to a rural village in New Delhi, where stigma around menstruation is pervasive. The women have virtually no access to sanitary napkins, resorting to unhealthy alternatives such as dirty rags or leaves and risking themselves to infection. Many girls are forced to drop out of school when they reach puberty. The tension and discomfort in the room are palpable whenever the topic of periods is brought up.
But with the machine, women can use local raw materials to produce biodegradable and affordable sanitary napkins. The Oakwood students also raised enough money to bring on a director to document the aftermath; born was the Netflix documentary that won an Oscar for best short film, Period. End of a Sentence. In the film, we follow the women as they begin selling their homemade pads, turning into entrepreneurs and for some, making their own income for the first time. Gradually, the tension around periods eases in the community. One woman even remarked that her husband respects her more now that she brings home money for the family.
After finishing Period. End of a Sentence, I couldn't contain my excitement and enthusiastically encouraged my peers to watch it as well. In this post, I had no problem expressing how revolutionary both economically and socially the pad-making machine had become for those women. But to be entirely truthful, I feel a twinge of discomfort and awkwardness as I write about my own experience with menstruation. About how one embarassing time in high school, a girlfriend discreetly helped me clean up when my period leaked onto my seat and provided me with an extra pad (and girl, if you're reading this, I'm still eternally grateful for you). About how one time at the mall, my cramps hurt so badly I could barely walk, yet I still desperately needed to find another tampon (alas, to no avail). About how a previous boyfriend shamed me into feeling that I had "ruined the intimacy" when I told him I was looking for a diva cup so I could go swimming on my period.
But I am inspired by these women to begin teaching myself to stop feeling ashamed about my period. In writing this post, I hope to also take a small step towards breaking the stigma around menstruation. In opening up about my body, I hope to empower other women not to feel like our periods diminish our value. This phenomenon is no longer a burden we must bear alone.
With that, I'd like to conclude with some inspiring words from Lupita Nyong'o:
"Shaming the cycle of a woman leads to a cycle of shame. When a woman is not permitted to accept her body, how can we expect her to stand up for her body when it's being abused? It's important for us—men and women—to respect our bodies. End of sentence."