Stopping the Stigma

As an executive producer of an Oscar-winning short documentary, Ruby Schiff ’21 brought global attention to the lack of education surrounding menstruation in a rural Indian village.

By Paola Liendo ’20

Few college students can add “Oscar nominee” — and winner — to their resumes, but on Sunday, Feb. 24, Ruby Schiff ’21 attended the 91st Academy Awards in Hollywood. Schiff, a psychology major from Studio City, California, served as an executive producer of the Academy Award-winning short-subject documentary “Period. End of Sentence.” The 26-minute film examines the stigma and lack of education surrounding menstruation in a rural Indian village, with the tagline “A period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.”

The film, now on Netflix, was also screened at Kenyon on Tuesday, Feb. 19, at 8 p.m. in the Gund Gallery’s Community Foundation Theater, courtesy of Kenyon Cinearts and Planned Parenthood Generation Action Club.

We asked Schiff about her work on the film and her continued efforts to shed light on The Pad Project.

How does it feel to be a college sophomore credited on an Oscar-nominated film?

It is definitely surreal. Our biggest goal in making “Period. End of Sentence.” was for it to be used as an educational awareness tool. I dreamed of sharing it with my college one day, so an Oscar nomination has surpassed my hopes and expectations.

How did you get involved with “Period. End of Sentence.”?

In 9th grade, after I wrote an English paper on the implications of traditional fairy tales, my teacher recognized my interest in feminism and asked me to come to a Girls Learn International meeting. My two best friends and I immediately fell in love with the club, which advocates for gender equality worldwide.

Each chapter gets assigned partner schools in developing countries to communicate with via Skype. After forming relationships with the women at one partner school in Hapur, we asked how we could best support them. The research took off when we learned that many girls drop out of school because they cannot afford or access sanitary pads while on their periods.

In 10th grade, we went to the United Nations and realized this issue was widespread, even in the U.S. So, we started The Pad Project to help bring affordable, biodegradable pads (made from locally sourced materials) to disadvantaged women via a sanitary pad machine. Through small fundraisers, bake sales, yogathons and a Kickstarter Campaign, we ended up raising $45,000, which we used to create an awareness documentary.

We decided that a film could potentially help us send more pad machines to places where they were needed, so we took that risk instead of sending out one or two machines. While this idea was ambitious, we knew that with the connections and resources available in Los Angeles we could find the support we needed. My dad found our incredible director, Rayka Zehtabchi. From there, the connections just kept building.

What was the most difficult issue you faced while making the film?

There were a lot of difficult conversations about what we wanted the story to look like. Originally the idea was that we LA girls would fly to Hapur, meet the girls, help them install the machine and document this process on film. After exploring this idea further we realized that we would rather illuminate the voices of the women of Hapur. We were aware of the white savior complex and didn’t want to seem like a group of white girls from LA coming to “save” this village.

What most connected you with the women in this film?

Documentaries about women in the developing world usually portray them as “needing to be saved.” With “Period. End of Sentence.” I believe we have accomplished a more complex and holistic view of these women. I find it amazing that the women completely took the business into their own hands, creating their own packaging, logo and everything. For some of them, this is the first time they are making their own wages. Watching them empower themselves as business women is great to see. Their hard work inspires me every day.

“Period. End of Sentence.” will be shown at Kenyon and is now on Netflix. What impact does it have on your life for the film to be reaching bigger and bigger audiences?

I am beyond excited to share my project with Kenyon. I’m hoping that it will educate our community about this important issue and inspire students to get involved in the project. There is still so much to be done; this is just the beginning.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.