Academy Award Winning Producer, Global Women’s Rights Activist, Forbes 50 Over 50, Women Making Social Impact
Melissa Berton, Academy Award winning producer, recipient of the 2019 Eleanor Roosevelt Global Women’s Rights Award, and Founder and Executive Director of The Pad Project, was recently named to Forbes 50 Over 50 list, Dreamers & Doers: Women Making Social Impact. Read More >
Period. End of Sentence Trailer
Fighting for Menstrual Equity
The Pad Project in 5 Years
Standing Up for Period Justice
A Period Should End a Sentence, Not a Girl’s Education
The View Interview
Oscar Press Room
Recently named to Forbes 50 Over 50 list, Dreamers & Doers: Women Making Social Impact, Melissa Berton draws on her experiences as an educator and advocate to share her personal story of how she inspired her high school students to turn their passion for gender equality into a classroom project that became an Oscar winning documentary and a global non-profit. Founded by Melissa and her students, The Pad Project is an organization dedicated to the idea that “a period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education.” In this presentation, Melissa details how she and her students launched a grassroots campaign to fund a sanitary pad-manufacturing machine that would employ ten women in a rural village in India, and to produce a 26-minute documentary to raise awareness about menstrual health. In 2019, that film Period. End of Sentence., was released on Netflix, won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short, and continues to be seen by millions of viewers around the world. The Pad Project, whose mission is to create and cultivate local and global partnerships to end period stigma and to empower women worldwide, is now an international non-profit with partners in 15 countries — and counting. A believer in collaboration across generations, Melissa vows she will never give up teaching, and takes pride that her former and current students, Millennial and Gen Z activists, are The Pad Project’s leading lights.
Just as the smartest student is not the one with all the answers, but the one who is unafraid to ask the questions; the bravest teacher is not the one who knows the way, but the one who is readiest for discovery. This perspective has driven educator and lifelong girl’s and women’s activist Melissa Berton to band with her students to create an Oscar-winning film and found an international non-profit. When Melissa’s high school students learned that girls their own age were missing school and even dropping out entirely due to the lack of access to products to safely manage their periods, they were outraged and determined to act. Melissa shared their passion. With little experience in fundraising or filmmaking, but with a desire to embolden her students and co-create solutions, Melissa found herself listening more and mentoring differently. Her students became her teachers in the art of learning how to trust; bake sales blossomed into Kickstarter campaigns, and a high school project became an Academy Award winning film, and an international non-profit called The Pad Project. Melissa shares with educators how meeting your students at the starting point, and letting go of the need to lead, powers the best and most enriching journeys.
Melissa Berton, an Executive Director of a global non-profit dedicated to women’s empowerment, an Academy Award-winning producer, and a high school English teacher for over a decade — posits that collaboration is more important than competition, and that the relationships you nurture will take you further than any statement on your resume. Melissa shares how it was only when she cast off the notion that she needed to climb a ladder of credentials to succeed, and instead embraced her emotions and intuition — that is to say, it is only when she “led like a woman” — that her career took off to unforeseen heights. In her capacity as Executive Director of The Pad Project, Melissa is a world leader in the fight to eradicate period poverty. She is the recipient of the Eleanor Roosevelt Global Women’s Rights Award, and a recent addition to the Forbes 50 Over 50 list, Dreamers & Doers: Women Making Social Impact. Melissa especially appreciates the Forbes designation because women are too often prized for their youth, and society tends to treat middle-aged women as invisible. It is ironic, Berton notes, that when she took the stage to accept the Oscar, held the statue high, and declared “a period should end a sentence, not a girl’s education,” she was on the brink of menopause. Looking back, Berton believes that the years spent menstruating, mothering, and mentoring were themselves a long gestation that gave birth to the woman she is now, in the fifth and most fertile decade of her life.
Stories shape who we become. With over twenty years teaching high school English, Melissa Berton has witnessed the transformative power of literature and diverse narratives to help students discover themselves, develop empathy for others, and learn to navigate uncertainty. Melissa asserts that when young people read about characters whose backgrounds may be radically different from their own, but whose struggles are similar, they not only grow more self-assured and tolerant, but come closer to understanding what it means to be human. More significantly, they learn there is no one answer, but a manifold of possibilities. Melissa’s profound (and often humorous!) accounts of her experiences in the classroom remind us that in this fast-paced age when Gen Z students leap to Google for conclusions, it is more critical than ever that we leave room for them to wonder.
"John Cabot University seeks to inspire students to build awareness of pressing humanitarian issues, confidence to make bold statements, and skills to make a positive social impact. When Academy Award-winning documentary film producer Melissa Berton spoke to our students, those goals were achieved. Over a dynamic hour and a half, the students were educated about the real-world process of connecting passion for a social issue with the power of visual storytelling, and about the perseverance and enthusiasm involved with bringing a finished film into the world. Melissa Berton is a powerhouse--a luminous combination of experience, warmth, tenacity and approachability. Our conversation with her will stand out as one of the most important moments of the semester."
"Melissa spoke with knowledge and passion about a cause that inspired every participant to action. Her story about how she came upon this topic [of girls' education and period equity] and how it became a documentary short were riveting. When Melissa said that [Academy members] told her that this was a topic that wouldn't appeal to the Academy and then reached behind her to hold up the Oscar, we were all cheering!"
"At Warren Wilson College, internationalism and social justice are part of our mission. Having Oscar-winning producer Melissa Berton bring and speak about Period. End of Sentence. to our students and our community drew one of our largest audiences ever and connected us all to a shining example of global feminism. Berton is an exuberant storyteller. And because her film is a documentary short, hearing the story behind the story is compelling and exhilarating."
"Melissa’s keynote focused on the themes of 'Leading towards Equity' was thought provoking, motivating and set the tone for the day. Her story and work exemplifies the critical need to achieve equity and it resonated well with many who are working in social impact. Melissa’s keynote was uplifting and encouraged all of us to be a catalyst for lasting change. The audience loved the energy and felt inspired!"
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