Indian nun welcomes Oscar for film on menstruation taboo


by Nirmala Carvalho

Mumbai, Feb. 26, 2019: A Catholic nun, who has promoted women’s hygiene in Indian villages for years, on February 26 expressed happiness that a documentary on menstruation has won an Oscar award.

“We are very happy,” Sister Liza Ignatius, gynecologist at Our Lady of Graces Hospital in Sardhana, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, told AsiaNews responding to the news.

The documentary film “Period – End of Sentence,” available on Netflix, on February 25 won the Best Documentary (Short Subject) category at the 91st Academy Awards.

The documentary by American-Iranian director Rayka Zehtabchi tells the difficulties of seven Indian women working in a small sanitary towel factory, since their use is considered unacceptable.

According to Sister Ignatius, the award “is good news for us who serve poor women in rural areas. This will help us to improve our initiatives in favor of women’s hygiene.”

In many parts of Asia, in fact, the menstrual cycle is a taboo: in Nepal there are still huts where the women who have just given birth and those with the cycle are confined; in India all women of child-bearing age (from 10 to 50 years) are forbidden to enter many Hindu temples.

“My patients are very poor and come from rural villages. We regularly organize programs and courses on women’s issues, such as menstrual hygiene. The hospital is at the service of the poorest of the poor,” Sister Ignatius says.

Our Lady of Graces Hospital is located about 100 km northeast of New Delhi. The clinic was founded about 30 years ago at the initiative of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Grace, which also includes the gynecologist nun. Sister Ignatius has been working there for 22 years. She is responsible for the development of health care for maternity and childhood.

The Catholic nun has transformed a simple dispensary into a hospital over the years. She also promoted the project “Mission Karuna (mercy) 83 – Fslg” that offers to the poor and needy free access to diagnostic tools to control blood pressure and other disorders such as diabetes.

The method is simple: every month volunteer sisters bring the kits to measure blood pressure and glucose levels in 10 villages. At Sardhana, after Sunday Mass, mobile clinics are set up to welcome the sick in need.

Sister Ignatius says the goal is “to be a messenger of our compassionate Father, taking care of the elderly and the abandoned, reaching those in need of medical care, controlling their health and suggesting to everyone a healthy lifestyle.”

The 26-minute documentary is set in Kaathikhera, a small non-descript village of Hapur district, just 90 km northeast of Delhi. It narrates the silent revolution being led by two village women — Sneha , 22, and her sister-in-law Suman, 37 – dispelling the myths associated with menstruation – talking about which is a taboo in Indian society.

Nonetheless, the two women picked up the gauntlet to fight the deeply rooted stigma related to the physiological cycle every girl and woman goes through. They, painstakingly, convinced the women and young girls of their village and adjoining areas about menstrual hygiene and the importance of sanitary pads the absence of which may lead to health issues.

The documentary, in which Sneha and Suman have also featured, has been directed by Rayka Zehtabchi , 25, and co-produced by Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment of ‘The Lunchbox’ and ‘Masaan’ fame.

“Both the women have brought laurels to the entire country. This is a moment of pride for us. I congratulate the villagers for backing us and Sneha and Suman when they were working day in and day out,” said Rajendra Tanwar, Sneha’s father. He confirmed that both women were in the US to attend the Academy Awards ceremony.

Sneha was nurturing the dream of joining police force after completing her studies, when Action India, an NGO set up a sanitary pad vending machine in her village. She was approached by the NGO people to join the project and educate the women about the health and hygiene of menstruation. A shy Sneha was initially hesitant, but then decided to be a part of the venture. She convinced her parents and made her sister-in-law Suman to join the project. Later she persuaded and educated her friends about the issue.

Fighting a conservation society, both Sneha and Suman installed a sanitary pad making machine in their house where other women also learned to manufacture and market their own pads. They named their brand ‘FLY’. Now her friends are also working at the unit manufacturing sanitary pads.

About a year and half back, a US team had reached the village and shot a documentary on the work being done by the two women. Members of ‘Action India’ also accompanied the team.

(Sources: asianews.it and newindianexpress.com, February 26, 2019)

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3 thoughts on “Indian nun welcomes Oscar for film on menstruation taboo

  1. The New Testament speaks of a woman with a haemorrhage touching Jesus and getting healed. She probably had a menstrual problem. By drawing attention to it Jesus was sending a message against the taboo.

  2. This is much needed recognition for India. Also good to know about the work in Sardhana. Let us also not forget that even in the Old Testament menstruation was considered unclean.

  3. The State and Central governments must realize their “insensitivity” towards this burning issue. They must encourage and support all NGOs who are doing commendable work at the grass-root level.

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