Caught on camera

Undercover video gets to bottom of the shame associated with buying sanitary products in India

A woman questions why sanitary products are sold wrapped in black bags or newspapers — all while a hidden camera is rolling

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In India, it is common practice for pharmacists, chemists and grocery store owners and shopkeepers to wrap menstrual products, like sanitary pads and tampons, in newspapers or thin black bags when selling them to customers. BuzzFeed India set out to explore what the motivation behind the curious phenomenon is.

The social experiment, documented in a hidden-camera video titled “Why Sanitary Pad = Shame!,” shows a woman traveling around New Delhi buying sanitary napkins from different stores. The hidden camera follows along and captures each interaction with the sellers. She very openly questions cashiers and shopkeepers on why there is so much shame, discretion and embarrassment attached to purchasing feminine products. The video is produced in Hindi and does not have English subtitles, but Women in the World has translated portions of it. Here’s what happens.

The woman begins by asking shopkeepers why they use black bags, posing the question: “Do women ask you specifically to use this bag versus a white one?” She added that it’s a normal, natural thing for women to buy these sorts of products.

The woman’s questions were largely met with hesitation and skepticism from shopkeepers and not too much in the way of meaningful answers — but here’s the twist. When the woman buying the pads walked out of the store, the person operating the hidden camera stayed behind and continued rolling to see what, if anything, shopkeepers — all of them men in the video — had to say when the woman departed.

Turns out, they had a lot to say after she left. And they were quite candid.

One of the men called her shameless and said that he didn’t want to just hand the sanitary pads to her in the open because, “these things are related to sex.”

Another man was caught on tape saying that everyone wants to be “American” and this is not part of Indian culture.

A third man said that while everyone knows what is in the bag, there is no need to put in on display. He elaborated that the woman going so far as to even bring up the issue is a contrived demonstration she was putting on to show that she is “advanced.” He went on. “However progressive she is, it’s not like she will become naked in front of her brother,” he said, which seemed to be an assertion that she needs to keep her morality and values in check.

One shopkeeper offered up a seemingly practical reason for why he uses the black bag to conceal the sanitary pads: in order to prevent the women who buy them from being teased. ‘Why should everyone know that she is on her period?” he asked.

The video ends with one man summarizing the general sentiment of bafflement and shock at the woman’s gumption to even question the use of black bags and newspapers. “ It’s a very weird question to ask in the first place,” said one of the shopkeepers.

Previously on Women in the World:
Artist finds “Beauty in Blood” with new project featuring her own menstrual blood
After earthquake in Nepal, sanitary menstruation practices at risk
Instagram apologizes to woman for censoring her period photo

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