India prides itself on being a young nation with a large youth population and immense potential. Roughly 10% of the total population accounts for all adolescent girls who go through their menstrual cycle for four to five days, every month. Even though as many as 120 million go through the same natural cycle, our society chooses to look at it as a ‘shameful’ thing that must not be spoken about or discussed. This culture of concealment further hinders the process of educating all girls on what a menstrual cycle is, how it affects their body and how to maintain good hygiene during the same. As a result of the lack of awareness, 88% of the women and girls who menstruate use unsafe materials, making them vulnerable to reproductive tract infections and other problems. In addition to this, because of the taboo around menstruation, women also face social exclusion and embarrassment during their cycle.
In order to bust the myths and taboos around menstruation we need to initiate dialogue and talk about it to normalize this natural phenomenon. Early advertisements for sanitary products were unable to sell the same, not because there wasn’t any demand but because advertising for sanitary products was thought to be improper and thus, was not well received. Now, things have shown slight progress and while some people still cringe at the sight of a sanitary product, there is still greater acceptance and discussion about the same.
In order to ignite discussion on menstrual health and normalize it, people in the Indian film industry are putting in great effort to produce films, keeping in mind this social objective. Phullu and Padman are two such movies that aim at using the silver screen as a platform to talk about this. Phullu, starring Sharib Ali Hashmi, is the story of a man named Phullu who empathizes with women in villages and understands their need for sanitary products. In the context of a stigmatized purview of menstruation by those in the village including elder women, the story further highlights Phullu’s struggles to make sanitary products available for the women in his village, fighting all societal judgment and pressure against the same. Padman, produced by Twinkle Khanna, is another story that talks about how women struggled with their daily activities and their monthly cycles in the absence of the availability of sanitary products and how one man attempts to tackle the same. Based on a true series of events, the movie is about Arunachalam Muruganantham who invented a cost effective method to produce sanitary napkins that could be afforded by women belonging to lesser privileged economic backgrounds.
In the light of movies like Phullu and Padman that are being produced for an audience of over 45 million people, there is definitely hope and optimism for menstruation and women’s health and hygiene to be looked at as a normal and natural thing that requires as much attention as any other bodily process and something that does not in any way bring shame or affect the ‘purity’ of women and girls who bleed.