Aditi Tells Us How Her Menstrupedia Comics Are Making Kids Period Positive Around The World
- IWB Post
- May 28, 2018
When I say that my period is a cold-blooded murderer,
I think of the eighteen-year-old in Assam,
Who used dirty rags to soak up the blood
The toxicity creeping up into her stomach,
Cloth covers her corpse now.
How many more bodies must be added to this pile of blood and flesh,
Before we can say that we know better?
When will we learn to pull our purple pads out of their miniature black body bags?
Tear the newspaper off these packets of tampons,
When will we learn to take back our shame?
Aditi Gupta, co-founder of ‘Menstrupedia’ and author of ‘Menstrupedia Comics,’ who has taken over 18 countries by storm, aims to create a friendly yet informative discussion about menstruation and strives to include people like you and me to join the ‘Period Positive’ movement.
In a casual conversation with Aditi, I realized how a bodily function can be twisted and manipulated to gain control over women and why there is an urgent need to break the taboo over menstruation. Excerpts from a chat:
Who initiated the first conversation with you about menstruation?
There was no conversation at all. Yes, I was given a rule book as to what I should do and not do during my period days. But the what, when, how, why was never discussed with me.
How did the restrictions in childhood during your menstrual cycle impact the perception of femininity in you while growing up?
Growing itself is a very complex issue. On top of that, if one sets rules on how to act and behave during periods, it just hampers the self-confidence and self-image of the girl. My parents loved me and took great care of me. My brother and I both were taught to clean the house as well as cook. In fact, he’s a better cook than me. (Laughs)
But unknowingly, the discrimination between girls and boys always follow. That’s why during my own periods, I was forbidden to talk about it to anyone else. Even the neighborhood used to advise me that now I have hit puberty, I must learn to be responsible and stay away from boys.
What did you feel missing in the discussions in school with respect to menstruation?
In my school, the chapter was completely skipped by our biology teacher. For something to be missing in these discussions, there should be a discussion in the first place. During our work in ‘Menstrupedia’, smaller schools and villages approached us and asked us to conduct workshops. Surprisingly, the posh and elite schools refrained from having similar conversations. They had doubts as to how the parents would react. So in one of the schools in Ahmedabad, we invited parents to our workshop. They absolutely loved it so much so that the school is now a regular buyer of our books.
Once you shift the focus from blaming them or lifting fingers to enabling the discussion and making it friendly, parents will become comfortable with it and talk about it more.
How did ‘Menstrupedia’ evolve from its first day?
It started out as a classroom project of two weeks. At first, people questioned our idea and laughed it out saying nobody in India will pay for a book on menstruation. But the complete opposite of that happened. Our content went completely viral and till date we haven’t spent a penny on marketing.
Our ‘Period Positive’ movement struck a chord with people from all over and from being a two-member company in our low-cost homes, today our book has been ordered by over 18 countries and we have over thousand volunteers helping us.
Recently we launched free videos that inform girls and women about menstruation. An SBI youth fellow was showing the video to a nine-year-old and her elder sister, mother and their friend were all keenly watching. And that was a great moment of pride for me to see our videos become a family show as that just opens doors for so many conversations.
Your current story follows the lives of three girls at different stages. What was the idea behind them? What did you personally learn from these girl characters?
We wanted to target three myths through our characters. One that menstrual blood is impure, the second is that you must avoid contact with boys during this period and the third is that you get extremely weak during this period.
I learned the power of questioning from these characters and my most favorite character is ‘Didi’ because she is well-informed and non-judgmental. We all have that one didi in life in the form of an aunt or an elder sister who is warm and kind and helps us without ever being judgmental.
Rajat Mittal is also one of the co-founders. How has it been like working as a team?
Rajat was Tuhin’s batchmate in engineering. Tuhin and I knew from the start that we are entrepreneurs from the heart. But Rajat was an entrepreneur long before us. He mentored us and told us not to concentrate on shallow things like a fancy office or hire too many people. Instead start with the basics first and concentrate on launching your product. This was an idea which was very close to us. Tuhin is a great animator, Rajat is good with tech and I’m good at in-depth research, so our combined skills work well together. We used all this to see beyond the data and imagery. We feel really lucky to have collaborated with each other.
Do you support the concept of menstrual leave?
I completely support it. I have terrible cramps on my first day and I would prefer taking rest. In our company too, it’s an optional paid leave, which one can take on their first day of periods.
Do you see menstrual personal hygiene awareness going hand in hand with menstrual environmental awareness (reducing waste)?
I’m a huge promotor of menstrual cups but just to preserve the ecosystem I wouldn’t force somebody to be uncomfortable and use the cups. For example, I would not be okay with cloth pads as that makes me feel very uncomfortable.
In our day to day lives itself we can reduce the waste of plastic and recycle old cloth into new things. But when it comes to using something in your vagina, I wouldn’t wear something that’s causing me discomfort. In some language books like the Nepali and Spanish book, we talk about sustainable products and its pros and cons.
But for our book in India which is for a nine-year-old, we teach them how to make their own cloth pads and how to maintain them. Here, women are unaware of how their anatomy works and basic things like they have three openings-the vagina, urethra and the anus.
Red Spot the following in your life-
1. One Decision that changed your life
Going to NID and studying design
2. One Book that gave you confidence to embrace womanhood
‘The Female Body by Desmond Morris.’ It is a book where the anthropologist speaks about how female body parts are seen by society and how they are controlled in various aspects.
3. One Movie that has inspired you
‘Moolaadé’. It’s an African film that addresses the issue of female genital mutilation. Older women pass on this tradition to younger women where they mutilate their genitals so as to have intercourse only for giving birth and not for the pleasure of it. In this movie, one woman stands up for her daughters and decides to not go ahead with this practice. And that really inspired me because when one woman stands up for something wrong, she is standing up for so many other girls and women.
4. One Advice That You laughed off for good
Advice regarding how I should behave in society or how should I dress up. The imposition of certain standards even for entrepreneurs on how they should be or work is something that is just bogus.
5. One fitness routine you swear by on red days
I love swimming and that’s how I discovered tampons. Even if I don’t swim on other days, I have to swim during those days. It’s just so relaxing and soothing.
Were there any comics or books that were an inspiration behind this idea?
There were many picture books like the ones of Eklavya publication and of UNICEF. They taught us how to be sensitive and how to address this topic with ease. In the American books that deal with menstruation, they explain what happens to the body when you grow up. But you can’t do the same in the South-Asian context. We can’t show growth in a bare body even if it’s a cartoon. The approach in such matters was a bit different in our books.
Your site has a questions section. Any questions you remember that were completely surprising or shocking?
It was quite a revelation for us. When I was getting the content out on the web, many people bugged me saying that we don’t need such advice in the urban cities. Go to the villages and spread this knowledge. But the people in the urban setup were equally unaware about periods and I got several questions regarding on whether not to take a bath, not to go to a temple and not to go for garba during periods. And these are people from good families working in IT sectors.
There was one question that really took me by shock. Someone had told this girl that if she bathes for the first two days, water will enter from the urethra into her stomach which will cause the stomach to bloat. It makes me furious to see how people scare women by these nonsensical myths.
What kind of response did you receive from investors and did your parents support this idea?
(laughs) It was a very funny experience. Think of a hall with these middle-aged men sitting and judging you when they are itself clueless about what menstruation actually is. We were told that being design students we should have had better business sense. And that’s why we shifted to crowdfunding. We raised more money than we asked for and we make enough profits to pump back into the company and develop new kick-ass products.
Our parents were initially clueless because we quit a high paying job to do something we believed in. As parents, they were worried as to how we would make money and how much we would save. Today, however, they couldn’t be more proud of us.
What is next on your mind?
We had opened a store that sold P-safe, P-Buddy, quick dry sheets for no staining, etc., but we went into losses. I really have no clue how the e-commerce industry works. No matter what you sell, Amazon and Flipkart are selling it before you in much lower prices.
Now we’re planning to build a crowd funding platform because many people wish to do something in this field and many more wish to donate for this cause. If the girl is educated at the right time, tomorrow when she becomes a mother she will be well-informed and guide her child which will eradicate the entire taboo with menstruation.
First published on Nov 13, 2017.