In a society where the subject of menstruation has long been shrouded in silence, Aditi Gupta stands as a beacon of change. She is the driving force behind Menstrupedia, a remarkable initiative that is revolutionizing the way young girls in India learn about their own bodies, specifically their periods and other aspects of puberty. Through animated videos, workshops, and most notably, a series of comic books filled with charming and easy-to-understand illustrations, Menstrupedia is tearing down the walls of ignorance and shame surrounding menstruation.
Aditi’s journey is fueled by a pressing need. Statistics reveal a grim reality: over 23 million girls in India drop out of school every year due to a lack of menstrual hygiene management facilities. Additionally, a staggering 71% of girls in India reported having no knowledge of menstruation before experiencing their first period. This lack of information not only hinders their education but also perpetuates the damaging stigma associated with menstruation.
Despite India’s reputation as a progressive country, the reluctance to openly discuss female bodies and menstruation persists. Women continue to be subjected to societal prejudices that deem menstruation impure and sinful. Such regressive thinking has no place in a society that has otherwise made strides towards progress in various aspects.
Aditi Gupta has made it her mission to challenge these deeply ingrained beliefs. Her vision is clear: “I dream of a future where menstruation is not a curse, not a disease, but a welcoming change in a girl’s life.”
Aditi’s personal experiences with menstruation have shaped her determination to bring about change. She recalls, “When I got my first period, I was told to keep it a secret from others, even from my father or brothers.” The restrictions placed upon her were severe; she was considered impure and was forbidden from touching any religious symbols or even sitting on a sofa during her periods. “I religiously followed all these restrictive customs for 13 years,” she reflects.
Growing up in Garhwa, Jharkhand, the simple act of purchasing sanitary pads was stigmatized. Aditi resorted to using cloth as an alternative. The avalanche of restrictions placed upon women during their periods creates a sense of shame and guilt, preventing them from viewing menstruation as a normal bodily function. Such practices have silenced countless innocent voices.
It was a fateful meeting with Tuhin Paul, now her husband and co-founder of Menstrupedia, that set the wheels in motion for Aditi’s groundbreaking initiative. They were post-graduate students at the National Institute of Design and fell in love. Aditi was struck by Tuhin’s openness to discussing periods, and he would go online to learn more about menstruation to help her with her cramps. As he shared his findings, Aditi realized how little she herself knew about this essential aspect of a woman’s life.
This revelation prompted a year-long research endeavor to delve deeper into menstruation and the misconceptions surrounding it. Even among urban populations that were thought to be well-informed, a lack of accurate knowledge about menstruation prevailed. Aditi and Tuhin wanted to create something that would not only educate but also ignite curiosity and encourage girls to learn more.
Their answer was the Menstrupedia comic book, which used cartoon characters to enact real stories about menstruation in a fun and engaging way. This comic book marked the beginning of a new era.
The couple’s passion for this vital issue drove them to make a significant impact in the lives of young girls who lacked essential education and awareness about their own bodies. In 2012, they co-founded Menstrupedia, leaving their jobs in 2013 to dedicate all their time to creating the Menstrupedia Comic, which was published in 2014.
Aditi emphasizes the cultural sensitivity of their work: “While making the book, we took great care that none of the illustrations are objectionable in any way.” The comic book features three girls at different pubertal stages: Pinky, who has yet to get her periods; Jiya, who gets her periods during the story’s development; and Meera, who has already started menstruating. These characters are guided by Priya, who educates them in a wholesome and fulfilling way.
Testing of the book revealed a remarkable level of enthusiasm among girls to learn about periods on their own, and even boys displayed interest. The Menstrupedia comic was officially released in September 2014.
The impact of Menstrupedia has been nothing short of phenomenal. Over 25,000 schools and numerous NGOs, both in India and globally, use the Menstrupedia comic book as an educational medium to introduce countless people to menstruation. The book is available in 15 languages, including regional and foreign languages such as Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Punjabi, and even Spanish. More than 15 schools in various parts of India have incorporated the comic into their curriculum, helping spread awareness about menstruation. It has reached over 1.7 million girls across India.
Aditi and Tuhin’s dedication to this cause earned them a spot on Shark Tank India, where Namita Thapar invested in their product. Aditi’s achievements are not only reflected in her recognition as one of Forbes India’s 30 under 30 achievers in 2014 but also in the transformative impact she has made in the lives of countless young girls who now feel safe and comfortable in their own bodies.
In a world where ignorance and shame surround menstruation, Aditi Gupta and Menstrupedia are leading the charge for change. Through education, understanding, and compassion, they are breaking down barriers and helping girls embrace the natural and beautiful process of menstruation.