Changing mindsets about taboos has always remained a big challenge in India and rest of the world. Supriya Batra interviews Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul, a husband-wife designer duo who through their unique initiative ‘Menstrupedia.com’, are spreading awareness about menstruation and taboos associated with it.
‘Though I come from an educated family, to talk about menstruation was a taboo at home’, says Aditi Gupta who like many other women in her household used cloth instead of sanitary pads because they were ashamed of purchasing sanitary napkins. Along with Tuhin Paul, her then boyfriend (now husband), at National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Aditi Gupta ended up doing a research project for the Ford foundation on menstruation, myths surrounding it and other facts about it. Their project was then compiled into a comic book which was more of an interactive journal on menstruation. During her research, Gupta interacted with many school girls, NGOs and parents on the subject and found that the best time to educate girls about menstruation was when they are most likely to experience menarche (the first menstruation). This project won a scholarship and later became the base for ‘Menstrupedia.com’, a website which is a complete guide for menstruation providing access to information, myths, FAQs, blogs, interactive videos and comic strips on menstruation.
Menstrupedia, which Gupta and Paul began in August 2012 after quitting their jobs barely saw 900 visitors per month in its initial year and has now, crossed the 2 lakh count per month. An article published by The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), the Geneva based Water supply and Sanitation Council, shows that the menstruation taboo, consequence of a ‘patriarchal, hierarchical society’, puts 300 million women at risk in India. They do not have access to menstrual hygiene products, which has an effect on their health and education. It was Aditi’s curiosity combined with the wish to spread awareness on the subject that she and Tuhin decided to combine their designing skills to bring the change in the society and break the myths and taboos associated with it.
23 per cent of girls in India leave school when they start menstruating and the remaining 77 per cent miss 5 days of school a month. In terms of awareness and information about the issue, WSSCC found that 90 per cent didn’t know what a menstrual period was until they got it. Menstrupedia’ provides with information about puberty, menstruation, hygiene and myths, along with illustrations that turn explaining the process of growing up into a much friendlier endeavour than its stigma-ladden alternatives. The website gets 2 lakh visitors every month from around the world. It has plans to expand the quick guide content for parents, boys, teachers and educators. The comic book would be ready in 10 Indian languages viz – Marathi, Kannada, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Urdu, Punjabi, Assamese, Oriya by this year. It would also be translated into Gujarati, Nepali and Spanish by next month. The taboos attached with menstruation in India are numerous, extremely old, and absurdly ridiculous. Don’t enter temples, don’t touch the idols of gods and goddesses, don’t water sacred plants, and in many households, don’t even enter the kitchen. With time, the level of strictness with which these customs are practiced is varying in different places, but they undoubtedly exist in one form or the other. The weirdest of them all is the “don’t touch pickles during your periods” theory. Even highly educated women and girls still believe that they are impure when menstruating and if they touch a bottle of pickle even by mistake, the pickle will be ruined.
After partnering with Menstrupedia, Whisper launched ‘Touch the Pickle Campaign’ last year. Brands like Whisper understood the importance of capturing the market by changing their pitch. Instead of using shame to sell their products, they understood the need of breaking the taboo through their advertising campaigns. The campaign won the Grand Prix Award at Cannes. The campaign was launched in 4 different citieswhere actress like Kalki Koechlin, Neha Dhupia, Shradha Kapoor, Mandira Bedi Tanvi Azmi and Parineeti Chopra spoke about period taboos and the importance of breaking the silence around the subject.
The LA Fact-File
1. At least 23 per cent of girls in India dropout of school when they start menstruating and a large proportion of girls in India miss an average of 4-5 days of school due to menstruation.
2. Around 300 million Indian women and girls do not have access to safe menstrual hygiene products.
3. India accounts for 27 per cent of the world’s cervical cancer deaths; almost twice the global average, poor menstrual hygiene is partly to blame.
4. Over 88 per cent of women use unhygienic alternatives during menstruation.
5. Women living in urban slums and rural villages use dirty rags or nothing at all during menses. About 77per cent of women in India use an old cloth during menstruation.
6. Municipal bodies in Mumbai provide 5,993 public toilets for men, compared to only 3,536 for women.
7. In Delhi there are an estimated 1,534 public toilets for men and 132 for women.
the brain-child of Aditi Gupta; is crafted to present the information about menstruation in a way that is not only easy to understand but also sensitive towards the taboo and nature of the subject. “Many young girls in India face a lot of problems due to lack of hygiene and misguidance, which can be avoided with the availability of proper information”, adds Gupta. It is a small but definitive step to shatter the myths and misunderstanding surrounding menstruation for ages. Together they dream of a future where menstruation is not a taboo but a welcoming change in a girl’s life.