A 29-year-old saw his wife using a dirty rag cloth – which he says he wouldn’t even have used to clean his two-wheeler – as a replacement for sanitary pads. To impress his then-newlywed wife, he went to a local store to get her sanitary pads. Once at the shop, he was handed pads folded and hidden in a newspaper as if they were contraband.
From then onward, Arunachalam Muruganantham embarked on a 4-year-long journey to find a solution to a social problem. He worked on making a replica of a multi-millionaire machine that would create low-cost sanitary pads for women in rural India.
Muruganantham not only produced a clean way, but he also created job opportunities for local rural women by providing these machines to self-help groups run by them. In India, his determination to create awareness about unhygienic practices surrounding menstruation is cherished. His efforts are depicted in Bollywood’s latest film – Pad-Man.
But in Pakistan, his narrative was banned because of its ‘taboo nature.’
Instead of using this film as an opportunity to start the conversation, the board banned it. According to some reports, they even denied watching the movie themselves due to its content (which makes me wonder if there are any women on the board).
Pad-Man aims to erase the stigma around menstruation.
It attempts to start an open conversation about pads so that it’s no longer uncomfortable for people to talk about menstruation and pads. It aims to erase the myths that prevent menstruating women from performing daily chores such as cooking, taking a shower (which can make them infertile), or watering plants, or even being in contact with people.
“We can’t allow our film distributors to import films which are against our traditions and culture,” said the censor board about menstruation.
What about menstruation is so against our culture and traditions?
Pakistani women bleeding every month is “against our culture?” Why? Is talking about periods is “against our culture” because it makes the men uncomfortable? Because what will men think?
As a child, even I was once told by a teacher to bury my used sanitary pads as to not offend men and their delicate sensibilities by seeing the used pads in the trash.
Muslim women are excused from fasting and praying while they are on their periods, but in our society, we still have to pretend to fast and pray even when we are menstruating because how else are we going to explain to men our eating habits during Ramadan?
Instead of explaining the men about the natural process of bleeding that women go through every month, we shame women and ask them “bhai kya sochega buri baat hai” (“What would your brother think?”)
Depressingly, men weren’t the only ones who objected this film’s release. Some women are opposed as well. “We know all about menstruation already. We don’t need to advertise it on big screens,” some say.
But here is the thing: We do need to talk about it.
We do need to spread awareness about it. Maybe people in educated settings are aware of it, but people in uneducated settings might not be aware of what is happening to either them or to the women in their families.
Not talking openly about menstruation causes a lot of social and health problems especially for women in more impoverished settings. Because sanitary pads are expensive, women in more impoverished backgrounds reuse old cloths rather than more safe and sanitary options, which can cause numerous health issues including a risk of infertility – which almost always is considered a woman’s fault.
Will the release of Pad-Man change the stigma and perception of menstruation overnight? Of course not.
But it will start a conversation about it. It can lead to better understanding of human body which can lead to better health.