“Menstruation is the biggest taboo in my country,” says Arunachalam Muruganantham, the inventor of the low-cost sanitation machine in Rayka Zehtabchi’s 2018 documentary. To this day women around the world are shamed for their period.
Zehtabchi introduces us to the rural communities in India’s Hapur District. The lives of the girls in these villages consist of routines such as working in their farms, going to school, or maintaining the house. That is, until they begin menstruating. On behalf of the filmmaker, a translator asks girls and women about their periods. It is such an uncomfortable topic for them that many don’t even like saying the word out loud. Boys are also asked if they know what a period is or how women get it, but they are clueless. The only information the women share is how they use old cloth as pads, but these are difficult to hide and maintain. As a result, many quit school and feel inadequate to pursue careers they are passionate about.
The women are aware that disposable pads exist, but note they are too expensive to purchase. Zehtabchi demonstrates how one man’s innovation can end the life sentence of disappointment that often accompanies menstruation. Muruganantham’s machine makes pads from simple, available material. This machine completely revolutionized the way the women reacted to their periods. After watching Muruganantham’s demonstration, a small group of local women came together to produce thousands of pads on the machine. They create their brand of low-cost pads called “Fly” because they believe women’s periods shouldn’t prevent them from achieving their dreams. These pads instead give women the opportunity to spread their wings and fly.
They travel to villages and hold demonstrations. They sell their pads to stores, but prefer to meet with women in person, so they aren’t embarrassed. Through this process of making and talking about their business, we see these women’s confidence bloom and reach new levels of empowerment.
You won’t forget scenes like the women seeing and holding a pad with such amazement for the first time. Zehtabchi’s story is not of one of pity, but of hope: although menstruation is still stigmatized, something as simple as a pad can change a life.