Pandora’s Box: Lifting the Lid on Menstruation, is an award-winning documentary film which boldly places international menstrual justice on the centre stage. Exploring a critical human rights issue that spans the globe, the documentary moves the spotlight on the shocking barriers faced by millions who menstruate, who lack the products, education, and dignity they deserve.
Close to 12 million women across the U.S. live below the poverty line, and most of them don’t have access to menstrual products, subjecting them to prejudice and deprivation.
“In the United States, products that are deemed ‘necessary for life’, such as groceries, food, and prescription medication are Sales Tax Exempt – this does not include period care products in most states,” says Carinne Chambers-Saini, Executive Producer of Pandora’s Box and CEO of Diva International Inc. “The power of our documentary is that it unveils a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of discrimination, abuse, and misinformation, revealing impactful stories that need to be told, raising the public consciousness about the period experience.”
The eye-opening documentary includes interviews shot on location in India, Kenya, Uganda, England, the U.S. and Canada. From women who were once incarcerated in the U.S. prison system, talking about their struggles to menstruate safely while deprived of basic human dignity; to an extraordinary Kenyan mother who once had to sell her body in exchange for sanitary napkins and now runs a business making reusable pads; and hip-hop artist, former M.I.A. drummer and marathon runner, Madame Gandhi, who triggers a global reaction after running the London Marathon ‘free-bleeding’ as a shock statement around issues of accessibility and affordability of menstrual care products.
Here’s the official trailer:
We had a chance to chat with Carinne Chambers-Saini to learn more about this important documentary…
The name of this documentary is very fitting. Why did you choose it?
Carinne: The title of the film came out of one of my interviews about the issue of menstrual equity—the movement to ensure that menstrual products are accessible to all people no matter what their financial circumstances. Yet period poverty, the lack of those products, leaves millions of women isolated, their health threatened. Once I started looking at the injustices of menstrual inequity, it was like opening up a “Pandora’s Box,” exposing the discrimination, misinformation, taboos, and abuse surrounding a natural bodily function like menstruation. So, there it was, our title: Pandora’s Box: Lifting the Lid on Menstruation.
There are many reasons why this documentary is necessary for all to see. What triggered you first to work on this?
Carinne: A few years ago, our Diva International team was in early discussions about producing a film that would examine period poverty around the world. In November 2017, I became even more interested in the idea after being the keynote speaker at the first-ever Period Con in New York City. It struck me that this was an historic event and we needed to document the issues being raised, which were very unsettling.
The lack of accessibility to period products is rampant around the world, from the US and Canada to India, Africa, and beyond. So it became very clear to me that we could do something to help.
Once you’re aware of period stigma and the devastating effects of period poverty, you can’t unsee it. I thought to myself, ‘if this film could normalize menstruation, and combat gender inequality, even a little bit, then we had to take on this project and bring it to the world.’
I’ve thought about girls and women in remote, rural places around the world and their access to menstrual products– it goes beyond physically limiting and this documentary brings awareness to other challenges, can you tell us about some that you’ve highlighted?
Carinne: It breaks your heart when you see what women and people who menstruate have to deal with. People are still shunned and shamed merely because of their periods, humiliated to go to school because they have no menstrual products to use. One in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school each year without a solution to manage their periods. This leaves them isolated and alone at home. In the film, we see that many girls who miss school are never able to return, fearful over the possibility of getting their periods in public.
As I mentioned, period poverty is the lack of access to period care products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, or waste management. It’s all about deprivation—both lack of access to appropriate menstrual products and to reproductive health education. The bottom line is that people are prevented from managing their periods with dignity. Period poverty also means that people with periods are forced to miss work or other key activities due to a lack of supplies to manage their menstrual cycles, creating a major barrier for participating in life to the fullest.
No matter where in the world period poverty exists, meeting the menstrual needs of all people is a fundamental human right. And period poverty must end.
It’s not just about third world countries, what about right here in North America?
Carinne: Period poverty absolutely exists here too. In North America, we know that 1 in 7 girls in Canada have left or missed school because they lacked access to period management products; and one-third of all Canadian women under the age of 25 experience period poverty. In the U.S. 12 million women aged 12-52 live below the poverty line, and most do not have access to tampons or pads either.
Worldwide, there are 800 million women menstruating daily, half of them without access to menstrual supplies. Many in the United States, South America, and Canada are deprived—some who live in neglect, who are homeless or in correctional facilities without sufficient access to menstrual products.
Another factor that contributes to period poverty is the unjust taxing of menstrual products. It’s shocking to realize that 32 States in the U.S. still tax tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups and other comparable products as non-essentials. Yet Viagra, cowboy boots and gun club memberships are tax-exempt and considered necessities! Clearly, the issue of period poverty is not limited to a specific region of the world. We hope that Pandora’s Box will help people understand how important it is to prioritize menstruation when it comes to access and policy making.
Menstrual products like the Diva Cup seems like a viable solution for many. Thoughts?
Carinne: The DivaCup is a reusable and eco-friendly alternative to pads and tampons. It’s convenient, leak-proof, comfortable and affordable, a period management option that creates significant cost-savings. Imagine, in a woman’s lifetime, she will use on average 11,000 throw away tampons and pads, polluting our landfills and oceans. But reusable options like menstrual cups, reusable pads and period underwear can eliminate this pollution. And from an economic standpoint, having access to reusable products lessens the struggle to afford menstrual products. Instead of someone using roughly 250 tampons per year, they would only be using ONE menstrual cup.
However, in order to be used correctly, DivaCup users must have access to potable water to clean their cups, which is not easily accessible in some regions of the world where period poverty exists. Additionally, not everyone with a period is comfortable using a DivaCup, as every person is unique. However, one of the critical components of menstrual equity is making sure that people with periods have choices so that they can make a decision for themselves about the best possible options for their menstrual health.
What surprised you the most when working on this film?
Carinne: Before we started working on the film, I didn’t have a full picture of how pervasive period poverty was. It’s alarming how little we all know about how people are suffering due to cultural taboos and lack of money. It breaks your heart when you see what women in U.S. prisons have to go through to get access to menstrual products. How unjust is it that a prisoner is denied access to tampons and pads, unable to menstruate with dignity? How sad is it for some girls not to understand what a period even is before they menstruate? And how regrettable is it that period conversation is taboo? As we set to work on the film, underlying everything was the need to create a world where menstruation is a fact of life, not life-limiting.
We need to get more people to see this documentary, where can we direct people now to check it out or get more information?
Carinne: Pandora’s Box is currently on the film festival circuit and we have not finalized our distribution details yet. However, you can visit the website and check out the trailer at pandorasboxthefilm.com. And to keep up to date, and find a screening near you, follow our social channels (Instagram, Twitter and Facebook) @pandorasbxfilm.
You can also join the fight to end period poverty, learn more here: www.pandorasboxthefilm.com