Charlotte Silverman is a first-year at Brown University and already has an Oscar under her belt. Period. End of Sentence., a film she executive produced when she was in high school, won the 2019 Best Documentary Short Subject category. It tells the story of women entrepreneurs in a village outside of New Delhi as they work to eradicate the stigma of menstruation. It’s being lauded for cinematic form, but perhaps its most lasting impact will be its social justice work. Silverman executive produced the film through an organization that she co-founded called The Pad Project, which connects with communities around the world where access to sanitary products is scarce and provides them with a machine that allows women to make and sell their own pads — appropriately named Fly Pads. I spoke with Charlotte about the film, The Pad Project and what’s next.
Isabella DeLeo (Motif): You started working on The Pad Project while still a high school student in Los Angeles. Can you talk a little bit more about how the project began and how it has evolved?
Charlotte Silverman: I’m a founding member of The Pad Project. There were about six of us; we were in a club called Girls Learn International at Oakwood School, and we learned about this issue because every year girls from the club go to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. A few girls had gone who were older than me, and they learned a lot about the issue — access to menstruation products and how that links to access to education. It was something none of us had heard about at the time. We had been doing a lot of pad and tampon drives for local women’s shelters, so we were interested in the issue of access. But we decided that we wanted to launch a more global initiative and try and create a network of activists around this issue. We had this ongoing partnership with this organization called Action India, and they also have a Girls Learn International chapter that’s based in Delhi. Girls come from local villages surrounding Delhi or they come from in the city and they meet and they talk about women’s health. They have different topics for all of their meetings, but one of the things they were also interested in working on was access to menstrual products, so we connected on that.
We basically came up with the idea together for using this invention that we had all heard of called the pad machine, and trying to see if we could implement it with them. It was very important to us that they were fully in control of the project, that we weren’t going to force anything on anyone, that it wasn’t our project. But we wanted to support Action India in whatever way we could in this initiative that they felt would be helpful in their community. That’s where the idea started and at the same time … we kind of threw around some ideas and a lot of conversations about whether it would be more useful to implement, say, three machines with the funds that we had or try this one machine and make a film about it and hope that people felt connected enough or inspired enough that they would see this as a tangible solution, or part of a solution. It was definitely risky to choose to make a film with the extra funds, but this is exactly what we were hoping for because now we’re getting the support and I guess, the people. Now we’re creating the network that we originally hoped for, that [allows us to do] work on this globally.
ID: Can you talk any current or upcoming initiatives The Pad Project is working on?
CS: So right now, there are many steps to take. We have two machines now installed and a third one is almost ready and they’re all through Action India. The reason it works is because we’ve had this very long relationship with Action India and we trust each other and have community connections. One thing we’re trying to navigate now is people reaching out for new pad machines. We want to make sure that [when] placing them in random places with people we don’t know that it is really a community initiative and that they have power over it. And we’re definitely working on a lot of support for legislation that provides free pads or tampons in school, things like that. So we’re trying to make this a more global initiative. We’re also interested in working in the US in low-income areas and areas with a lot of homeless women. Because this is an issue all over the world. We have a lot of big plans for the future of the project, but right now it’s trying to make sure each pad machine and each initiative is very individualized, but also a part of this larger movement.
ID: How has this initiative shed light on the importance of having access to menstruation products and education surrounding women’s health?
CS: Since this has become more public, the film itself has become more in the public conversation in their communities — they have expressed that this conversation has finally begun. And it’s not that everything is solved now, but having people talk about these issues is a huge difference. Right now Action India is working on sending peer educators to schools and universities around Delhi to talk about Fly Pads and share what they’re doing and hopefully inspire other younger girls by seeing this woman run a project. A lot of what the work is now is education, not to say that we know how to solve everything and this is the answer to the world’s problem, but just to give an example of what community activism can look like.