This article was first published in ‘White Print’ – a braille magazine for the visually impaired, founded and published by Upasana Makati.
Indian society houses belief systems that turn out to be detrimental for the overall development of an individual. The most harmful facet of these practices is that it is passed on from generation to generation without logical reasoning and informed opinions.
Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul from the National Institute of Design took up one such prevailing taboo in our society – Menstruation. Mothers tend to shy away from discussing this topic with their daughters while the Indian education system merely deals with it as a biological process without imparting education about the practical aspects involved in the cycle.
What is Menstrupedia?
Menstrupedia is an Indian social enterprise that creates innovative educational products and infrastructure for spreading menstrual awareness among young girls across the world. The need for Menstrupedia arose from one of the co-founders, Aditi Gupta’s own struggle with menstrual unawareness due to which she had to face many problems while growing up and therefore she helped create Menstrupedia to address such problems for young girls growing through a similar phase.
Menstrupedia was launched in November 2012 but legally incorporated in September 2013. In its young life, Menstrupedia has served over 60 million people from around the world through its online educational content and more than 4000 girls in India through its printed book called Menstrupedia Comic. More than 250 schools in India have already adopted Menstrupedia’s educational material to teach about menstruation as part of their curriculum. Through collaborations with local organizations and individuals, Menstrupedia’s educational material is being used in countries like, Uruguay, Nepal, Philippines, Nigeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, US, UK, Australia and Sweden.
Menstrupedia’s culturally sensitive approach and sustained innovation in the sector of Menstrual awareness has attracted widespread acclaim. Menstrupedia has appeared in leading news sources like The Wall Street journal, Reuters, Forbes India, Times of India, CNBC and more.
Menstrupedia’s mission is to empower parents and teachers to educate young girls about menstruation at the right time, help young girls learn about their bodies so that they are better able to take care of themselves during their periods and fight against the age old myths and taboos around menstruation that are not only discriminatory in nature but are also detrimental to the self-esteem and self-confidence of young girls affecting their growth in life.
The husband and wife duo, and founders of Menstrupedia, make this taboo topic easier and fun for schools, parents and young girls. We spoke to Aditi and Tuhin about the ground-breaking work they are doing in the field.
At the Natonal Institute of Design, Tuhin and I got into a relationship. Tuhin learnt more about the pain and inconvenience that girls and women go through every month during their periods and how they are often treated as being impure because of it. It wouldn’t be very hard to imagine what a young girl goes through in the absence of a proper source of information on the subject and on top of that being branded impure by her own family. I had myself experienced and dealt with menstruation related problems in my life and had always felt a need for trustworthy and easily accessible information on this subject. This might be a situation not just in India but in many other countries as well. We saw a lot of design scope to fill this gap of information as communication designers.
What started out as a thesis project at NID has now become Menstrupedia. I had taken up a yearlong project to study the level of awareness about menstruation in young girls. Though it was my project, Tuhin was closely involved with it from the beginning as it is not just a problem of women health and hygiene but also a communication design problem. At the end of the project we found a need for an appropriate guide about menstruation for young girls. In order to address the same, we created a prototype where we explained menstruation through the comic medium using characters and stories and tested it with young girls. We received a very positive response. Our yearlong research backs our work and that is certainly inspiration for us.
A comic was developed to test the medium. We took this comic in to schools in Mehsana, Gandhinagr , Ahmedabad and Ranchi. We received a very positive response from girls, parents as well as teachers. After working for three years in the e-learning industry and having saved some money as an initial investment, we quite our jobs and started working full time on Menstupedia from August 2013. Rajat Mittal (Third founding member) who is a graduate from DAIICT and a post Graduate in Computers from Arizona State University, joined us in 2013. With his technical skills our team was pretty much complete.
Facts & Figures
Millions of girls in India suffer in silence due to the myths associated with this biological process. Practices like keeping girls away from other family members, not allowing them to shower during their menstrual cycle can damage the self-confidence of a girl.
According to National Family Health Survey 32% women in rural areas and 67% women in urban area use sanitary napkins in India. We found that many girls in India use unhygienic ways of to manage their cycle. This is largely because there is a culture of silence around the subject. Girls remain unaware about hygienic ways of managing their cycle especially during the time they get their first periods. We may believe that menstrual unawareness is a rural phenomena but our research showed that it is very much an urban phenomena too.
On Becoming Modern Myth-busters
If you are a girl or a woman who has had periods before, it is likely that by now you have knowingly or unknowingly encountered a menstrual myth. Menstrual myths are (mis)beliefs and taboos related to menstruation that are followed for reasons that have no scientific basis to them. But how did these myths originate? Earlier in the absence of scientific methods, the only way to unravel this mysterious phenomenon called menstruation was to draw deductions from what is externally observed and experienced during this process.
Causes and effects of menstruation were falsely perceived based on such observations like periodic shedding of blood from the private parts of the females, which is sometimes accompanied by pain and sickness. For the primitive society a combination of blood and pain suggested danger against which proper precautions must be taken. These falsely perceived causes and effects of menstruation and exaggerated precautions against falsely perceived dangers of menstruation have over the time led to the various myths around the subject and contributed towards the taboo nature of it.
Some of the myths that we deal with in the comic are- a menstruating woman is impure, dirty, sick or even cursed. Menstruating women shouldn’t take a bath; Menstruation leads to heavy blood loss, which results in anaemia. It is impossible to get pregnant while menstruating.
What Lies Ahead
Menstrupedia Comic Books are a part of school curriculum in 250+ schools. Andhra Pradesh Government distributed the books in 122 schools across 13 districts in the state.
We do not conduct menstrual awareness workshops, our goal is to empower, educator and any volunteer who wants to educate girls about periods. Using the comic book for conducting workshops has been very helpful for a lot of volunteers across India.
We aim to create a nation- wide infrastructure for menstrual education. The book would translated in 10 India regional Languages by the end of this year. Our audio-video app of the books would be also launched. Currently we are working with local organization to get the books available in Nepal and South America. Nepali and Spanish translation is done.
A Job Well Done – Some Important Testimonials
“I got my period with no briefing about it from my mother or any body and it was a period of emotional distraught for me. So I had already briefed my daughter when she was just 9 years old! It was delighted when I saw the ad for Menstrupedia and immediately ordered for it, hoping that my daughter does not get her period before she gets the book. Luckily she indeed got it before she got her period. She is 10 years old now and the book was exactly what I needed for her. Many things have been addressed in the comics – like diet, hygiene, preparation for the next period etc. and it is indeed a wonderful book! I do have the closeness with my daughter to talk about everything, but I know that not many mothers/parents have that and this book will be a boon for such parents and kids. Kudos to you all for coming out with such kind of needed books. Thanks to you all”.
“Few months back when my daughter asked me questions about what is whisper and why I am using it? I was little uncomfortable explaining her why I am using sanitary napkins. She is 10 years old and I realized, it’s time to explain her about menses. I started going through Google, books. Asking friends how to discuss this but it was very difficult to make her understand with all science. As I was going through Internet I saw this comic book with all cartoons like I am reading tinkle. I was very happy to read Menstrupedia comic book. I pre-ordered the book. After 2/3 months I received this book by courier and gave it to my daughter Parinita. I told her just go through it and if you have difficulty in understanding ask me. She was excited to see the book with cartoons. After reading she came to me and said mom I don’t have any questions now. I know now about menses. I was totally relieved. I recommended this book to many parents who are finding difficult to discuss with their young Kids.”
We are so excited to have been able to shine the spotlight on this amazing venture. We hope that young children all over the world will enjoy and benefit from Menstrupedia. We also can’t wait to see what Aditi and Tuhin will do next!
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