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A filmmaker called for 'menstrual equality' in her Oscars acceptance speech. Here's what that means.

  • The film “Period. End of Sentence.” won the 2019 Oscar for best documentary short.
  • It’s about women in a rural Indian village who fight deeply rooted stigma around periods.
  • In her acceptance speech, director Rayka Zehtabchi said the film’s subjects were empowering women to fight for “menstrual equality.”
  • Menstrual equality is a movement that aims to make menstrual products more accessible and affordable.

At the 91st annual Academy Awards on Sunday, the honors for best documentary short film went to “Period. End of Sentence.” — a movie all about menstruation.

The film’s director, Rayka Zehtabchi, was overcome by tears as she accepted the award with co-recipient and producer Melissa Berton.

“I’m not crying because I’m on my period or anything,” Zehtabchi said. “I can’t believe a film about menstruation just won an Oscar.”

The 26-minute movie, currently streaming on Netflix, focuses on a rural village in India where women manufacture sanitary pads, improving access to the products and fighting cultural stigma surrounding menstruation.

Zehtabchi went on to thank the women featured in the documentary, saying, “Know that you are empowering women all over the world to fight for menstrual equality.”

Menstrual equality is a movement that aims to make menstrual products more accessible and affordable

Menstrual equality, or menstrual equity, is a political and social movement that views access and affordability of menstrual products as gender equity issues. In a 2017 interview with Newsweek, Lawyer Jennifer Weiss-Wolf took credit for coining the phrase.

“In order to have a fully equitable society, we must have laws and policies that take into account the reality that half the population menstruates,” reads the website for Period Equity, a law and policy organization co-founded by Weiss-Wolf. “Menstrual products should be tax-exempt. They should be affordable and available for all, safe for our bodies and the planet. Periods should not hold anyone back, period.”

The menstrual equity movement aims to increase access to menstrual products.
Sarah Schmalbruch/INSIDER

One goal of the movement is to eliminate the so-called “tampon tax.” This isn’t a tax on tampons specifically but instead refers to the fact that in some US states, certain health and medical supplies are exempt from sales tax, while tampons are not, NPR reported in 2018. (According to NPR, ten US states have exempted menstrual products from sales tax.)

Read more:Nevada just became the 10th state to eliminate the ‘tampon tax,’ paving the way for greater ‘menstrual equity

The menstrual equity movement also aims to make menstrual products more affordable and freely accessible in places like homeless shelters and schools.

In low- and middle-income countries, girls may lack access not just to menstrual products but also to clean water, clean toilets, and private spaces required to manage periods, according to a 2017 review published by researchers from the World Health Organization. In some places, a combination of physical period symptoms and cultural taboos can hinder girls’ participation in their households, social activities, and at school, the authors of the review concluded.

In an interview with the “Today” show, Zehtabchi said she encountered this stigma up close while making the film.

“I think when I went there and was face to face with the women and talking to them in detail about their experience and building their relationships with them, it became really clear to me that it was a really big source of shame,” Zehtabchi told the “Today” show. “It’s held so many of the women back, for so long.”

One young woman interviewed for the documentary even reported that she dropped out of school after getting her period.

“I studied until I reached middle school, but when I started having periods, it became really challenging,” she said in the documentary. “When I got my period, it was very tough for me to change clothes. I had to go somewhere far off.”

Melissa Berton, who shared the Oscar win with Zehtabchi, addressed this issue specifically during the duo’s acceptance speech. Berton, an English teacher at Oakland High School in California, joined forces with a group of her students to start The Pad Project, an organization that raised the money to produce the documentary, the “Today” show reported.

“I share this [award] with teachers and with students around the world,” Berton said. “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”

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