The battle for menstrual equity is in full swing in Kathikhera. The village in India is at the center of The Pad Project, a new documentary following the lives of girls and women coming together to make affordable pads—and smash period stigma in the process. (We previously spoke to the film’s director.)
The installation and operation of a pad machine in Kathikhera will allow local women and girls to sustainably produce vital menstrual products—and employ them in the process. In parts of India where many women do not even know what menstruation is, let alone have access to safe and hygienic period products, this machine will also help activists raise awareness about menstrual health and educate entire communities, shifting culture in the process.
Women and girls in Kathikhera aren’t waging this fight alone. The Oakwood School chapter of Girls Learn International, a Feminist Majority Foundation program for middle- and high-school students, has partnered with Action India to help bring this project to help fund the installation and operations of a pad machine there. These young women, ranging in age from 13 to 19, represent the power of rising generations to make a difference. With a clear vision and determination to affect real, sustainable change that will empower girls and women for generations to come, the members of GLI Oakwood can teach us all some valuable lessons in what it truly means to be a global citizen.
Ms. spoke with five members of GLI Oakwood to discuss their involvement with The Pad Project as the film sharing its name heads into a final round of crowdfunding. Emily, 19, attends George Washington University. Claire, 18, attends the University of Pennsylvania. Sophie and Charlotte, 17, and Maggie, 13, go to Oakwood.
What inspired you to become involved in this type of advocacy work? When was the moment you knew you had to do something to help?
Emily: I was inspired to get involved in this type of advocacy work when I realized that so many issues that women and girls face globally go unrecognized by the public. I think that a project like this—one that sheds light on a subject that often gets overlooked—is exactly the type of project that needs to be made. A girl’s education should not come at the cost of her period and the lack of sanitary feminine products that she is able to obtain. This is an issue that can no longer go unrecognized because too many girls are suffering consequences that they do not deserve. We cannot continue to allow girls around the world to be deprived of their human right to an adequate education.
What is one of the most important things you would like people to learn about The Pad Project—or about life for women and girls in India—that you think is often overlooked or not commonly known?
Sophie: I think that because of the scope of the project and the immediate effect it is having on the women in India, we sometimes forget that having access to affordable menstrual products is a problem girls and women face everywhere, including here in LA. Low income families oftentimes face difficulties providing pads and tampons for their daughters and this ends up impacting the girls’ attendance at school or participation in everyday life. This is also a huge issue for homeless women. There is a taboo around menstruation everywhere, and I hope that The Pad Project can help break down the barriers surrounding these slightly more “awkward” conversations.
Do you think the progress you guys have made in all of your efforts would have been possible under the guidance of just any teacher? How do you think having Melissa Berton as your faculty advisor for GLI has influenced all of the work that you have been able to accomplish?
Charlotte: We have all had the daily experience of running into Melissa while she is speed walking to her next class and simultaneously trying to give us information or ask for our opinion on a topic in feminism. Her dedication to and excitement about feminism and social justice is proven daily by her passionate conversations with students, and is one of the main reasons I was so inspired to join GLI.
The progress we’ve made with The Pad Project is due to her passion, and would have been frankly impossible had we been working with someone less determined and excited about the subject. Showing up to every meeting with a bright smile, Melissa allowed us all to interact with her daily as a mentor, a friend, and an inspiration, which are all necessary relationships to have in a team. Melissa is one of my biggest heroes, and I truly believe that our large successes ended up coming together because of her encouragement and efforts!
How has becoming involved in The Pad Project changed your outlook or perspective, or even you life? Has it perhaps influenced what you would like to do as you get older?
Maggie: When I became a part of GLI a year ago I was surrounded by people who inspired me and really impacted the way that I think of the world. Becoming involved in The Pad Project has not only changed my view on inequality, but it has changed my view of the world and the injustice that girls and women are forced to deal with. The most inspiring thing of all was seeing the impact that The Pad Project has had already and the impact that it will continue to make in the lives of girls and women everywhere.
5. What has been the most rewarding aspect of the project for you so far? Why?
Claire: For over five years The Pad Project was an idea that our GLI chapter would throw around at meetings, so to me, the tangibility of the project today is almost impossible to comprehend. Being able to see actual footage of the women in the village operating the pad machine is incredible because it signifies that this project is actually beginning to stimulate change. The most rewarding part of The Pad Project is knowing that the countless hours spent meeting and planning during school lunches, over the weekends, and throughout holiday breaks were worth it. The women working on the machine have expressed excitement about the project because they are encouraged to be ambitious. This grants them the opportunity to take a machine and transform it into both a prospering business and a deeply necessary resource.
The installation of the machine is also sparking the normalization of conversations about menstruation both in India and here in our own community. Many of my peers used to express discomfort whenever I would talk about this project, but recently I have noticed my friends and family opening up to the subject matter and leaning into their discomfort. At first, the majority of the women in India didn’t even know what menstruation was, so the fact that the pad machine is also promoting education and conversation about women’s health is astonishing. This all just goes to show that the purpose of this project is being fulfilled at the highest level.
How do you plan for all of the work you have done to be passed down to younger generations? What do you think is the best way to keep people involved and aware of these issues?
Emily: Even though it can sometimes seem like a daunting project and issue to take on, once you become involved, you don’t want to stop. I am going into my sophomore year of college and have not left this project behind. After becoming aware of a problem this serious—something that so many girls and women have to struggle with frequently—you have to do anything that you can to help.
Click here to support The Pad Project and help tell this story on the big screen. All donations are tax-deductible.