Last Sunday I dashed out of my flat to catch Pad Man, a Bollywood film based around the real-life story of social activist Arunachalam Muruganantham and his low cost menstrual hygiene machines. Sadly it didn’t seem to be showing in many cinemas, so you may well have missed it – if it is showing near you, I highly recommend seeing it.
Played by Bollywood star Akshay Kumar, Lakshmi is a newly-married welder who works in a rural village in India. Lakshmi discovers his wife uses an unhygienic rag during her period and is banished from the house, forced to sleep outside. Upon discovering the prohibitive costs of commercial sanitary pads, Lakshmi is determined to find a way to make them cheaper. After several attempts earn him the ire of the community for discussing a taboo topic, Lakshmi is banished from the village but is determined not to give up.
The film itself was captivating, whilst it took a few liberties with the real-life tale for the sake of the story, the determination of Lakshmi to create something for the better for his wife and sisters was admirable. There were times when I wondered if the determination was about the love for his wife, or a sort of stubborn refusal to give up on the challenge Lakshmi had set himself.
What was equally fascinating was the attitude towards the idea of menstruation from the villagers, one of being hushed up and kept quiet, an embarrassment, where menstruating women had to use rags and sleep outside. Despite what is an often uncomfortable topic of conversation, the film had some genuinely funny moments including the final song was a humorous nod to the 70s Batman theme tune.
The film gives statistics on how few women in India are using sanitary pads compared to rags, and it’s shocking, but hardly surprising given the cost compared to income. But period poverty is not just a problem in India, it’s a worldwide phenomenon. Closer to home, Plan International claims one in ten British girls aged between 14 and 21 have been affected by period poverty, and last year The Homeless Period raised the issue of the problems vulnerably housed women had gaining access to sanitary products and places to wash.
Ways you can donate to help women suffering period poverty…
- Most food banks will accept donations of sanitary products – to find your nearest one, check https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/. The Homeless Period also recommend donating to local homeless shelters http://thehomelessperiod.com/
- Bloody Good Period give menstrual supplies to asylum seekers, refugees and those who can’t afford them. https://www.bloodygoodperiod.com/
- Days for Girls is a US organisation which aims to create “a world with dignity, health, and opportunity for all, through sustainable menstrual care solutions and health education.”https://www.daysforgirls.org/
- Donate Pads lists organisations where people can donate money and/or cloth pads to get menstrual products available to women in need. They also provide patterns for making cloth pads. donatepads.org
- The Cup Effect are a NGO (Non Governmental Organisation) and not-for-profit Social Enterprise and their mission is to raise awareness about menstrual cups and make them more widely available. https://www.thecupeffect.org/
- Pads4Girls support “access to education for girls in developing nations outside Africa by offering sustainable, affordable menstrual care products.” https://lunapads.com/pads4girls