To study — to understand the problem better, I undertook up a year-long research to study the lack of awareness about menstruation and the root cause behind it. While it is generally believed that menstrual unawareness and misconception is a rural phenomenon, during my research, I found that it is as much an urban phenomenon as well. And it exists with the educated urban class, also.
While talking to many parents and teachers, I found that many of them actually wanted to educate girls about periods before they have started getting their menstrual cycle. And — but they lacked the proper means themselves. And since it is a taboo, they feel inhibition and shameful in talking about it.
Girls nowadays get their periods in classes six and seven, but our educational curriculum teaches girls about periods only in standard eight and nine. And since it is a taboo, teachers still skip the subject altogether. So school does not teach girls about periods, parents don’t talk about it. Where do the girls go? Two decades ago and now — nothing has changed.
I shared these finding with Tuhin and we wondered: What if we could create something that would help girls understand about menstruation on their own — something that would help parents and teachers talk about periods comfortably to young girls? During my research, I was collecting a lot of stories. These were stories of experiences of girls during their periods. These stories would make girls curious and interested in talking about menstruation in their close circle. That’s what we wanted. We wanted something that would make the girls curious and drive them to learn about it. We wanted to use these stories to teach girls about periods.
So we decided to create a comic book, where the cartoon characters would enact these stories and educate girls about menstruation in a fun and engaging way. To represent girls in their different phases of puberty, we have three characters. Pinki, who has not got her period yet, Jiya who gets her period during the narrative of the book and Mira who has already been getting her period. There is a fourth character, Priya Didi. Through her, girls come to know about the various aspects of growing up and menstrual hygiene management.
While making the book, we took great care that none of the illustrations are objectionable in any way and that it is culturally sensitive. During our prototype testing, we found that the girls loved the book. They were keen on reading it and knowing more and more about periods on their own. Parents and teachers were comfortable in talking about periods to young girls using the book, and sometimes even boys were interested in reading it.
The comic book helped in creating an environment where menstruation ceased to be a taboo. Many of the volunteers took this prototype themselves to educate girls and take menstrual awareness workshops in five different states in India. And one of the volunteers took this prototype to educate young nuns into Buddhist monastery in Ladakh. We made the final version of the book, called “Menstrupedia Comic” and launched in September last year. And so far, more than 4,000 girls have been educated by using the book in India and — Thank you — and 10 different countries.
We are constantly translating the book into different languages and collaborating with local organizations to make this book available in different countries. 15 schools in different parts of India have made this book as a part of their school curriculum to teach girls about menstruation.
I am amazed to see how volunteers, individuals, parents, teachers, school principals, have come together and taken this menstrual awareness drive to their own communities, have made sure that the girls learn about periods at the right age and helped in breaking this taboo.
I dream of a future where menstruation is not a curse, not a disease, but a welcoming change in a girl’s life. And I would like to end this with a small request to all the parents here. Dear parents, if you would be ashamed of periods, your daughters would be, too. So please be period positive.