Beautiful News: How bathroom conversations are changing government policies

Beautiful News: How bathroom conversations are changing government policies

Remember your school bathroom? Rows of fading doors. Rubber-soled shoes squeaking on the off-white tiles.

filmmaker Jessie Zinn
Filmmaker Jessie Zinn / Beautiful News.

These toilets aren’t the most luxurious places. But for young girls who are menstruating, it can be a sanctuary in between classes – if they make it to school. 

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Every month, up to seven million girls are absent because they can’t afford sanitary products. It’s more than an inconvenience; it’s a national crisis. That’s why filmmaker Jessie Zinn picked up her camera and stepped inside this unexpected haven to capture the reality of having a period. By opening up the conversation, she’s contributed to the efforts of menstrual health activists and brought about change on a national level.


Zinn’s four-minute documentary, made in conjunction with Rock Girl and the Western Cape Education Department, was released in 2016. Using film, animation, and voice overs of students, Can I Please Go to the Bathroom? offers a tender visual report on how menstruation hinders young girls. The learners express their frustration that having a period isn’t a choice, yet sanitary items are seen as a luxury and taxed. The additional financial burden, known as tampon tax, has long been the norm.

Shortly after its release, the documentary was announced as a Sundance Ignite Finalist in their “What’s Next?” short-film challenge. Zinn also scooped second prize at the Youth Jury Award at the 2017 Encounters Documentary Film Festival. But the real victory for Zinn and her collective of advocates is the legislative results that followed. As of April 2019, the South African government removed VAT on sanitary items. 

This is a major stride in the fight for fairness, as issues of poverty, gender, and inequality intersect at menstrual health. “As any kind of artist, you have the power to contribute to the way people see the world,” Zinn says. We all have a responsibility to speak up. And when we do, real change can and does happen.

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