Tackling the taboo around menstruation through a comic book – ‘Menstrupedia’

Considering the taboo around talks relating to menstruation in India, a husband-wife duo have come up with an innovative way to spread awareness about the issue that is so crucial yet so ignored by parents while guiding their daughters about puberty. Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul have taken nearly two years to convert their digital initiative on educating girls on the ‘forbidden’ topic to come up with a comic book on the same – Menstrupedia. “In our year long research that led to the formation of Menstrupedia we found out that due to lack of proper educational materials on menstruation and due to the prevailing culture of silence around the subject, parents and teachers were finding it hard to educate young girls about menstruation at the right time. To tackle that, we wanted to create an educational tool that could help young girls learn about menstruation all on their own and that way make the job easier for parents and teachers,” expounds Tuhin. The research also provided an opportunity to collect several anecdotes about menstruation which they are using to teach. The main reason to go print was because of lack of availability of digital devices to everyone; and comic is a very engaging medium of communication as well. A prototype was also created to test the medium and the positive response encouraged them to move ahead with the idea. Since the A3 spreadsheet comic had visuals accompanying the facts, it helped parents and teachers overcome their hesitation and explain better. “Through various NGOs and individuals, the prototype was used to educate more than 500 girls about periods. And it was found that even boys were interested in reading the book,” Tuhin says. Targetted at kids aged 9-13, the comic book revolves around the lives of 3 young girls Pinki, Mira, Jiya and Priya, who is a young doctor educating these inquisitive minds. Short incidents from the past are narrated by them which are based on real life stories from research. Each story is followed by a learning point. The girls learn about growing up, nutrition, physiology of menstruation, tracking menstrual cycle and menstrual hygiene management. Aditi and Tuhin are the faces behind authoring and illustrating the comic, while Rajat Mittal is the editor and production manager, Anam Mittra and Ranjit Singh are the editors and Dr Mahadeo Bhide is the medical consultant. The two year old website receives nearly 1 lakh visitors on a monthly basis. The site and the comic are backed by book sales, ads on the website and sponsorship from Whisper (P&G). The book production investment came out of their own savings and an added Rs 4.5 lakh through crowdfunding. “I was oblivious about the inconvenience due to menstruation and the various beliefs and customs around it. Aditi followed many myths and restrictive customs around menstruation until she started her work on Menstrupedia,” highlights Tuhin. The 88 page comic is currently only in print format and work is in progress to make it available on digital as well. About 1000 books have been sold out in three months in the first batch allowing them to break even in the time span. 23 copies have been shipped to Uruguay, 30 to Philippines and 10 to the US with a few also in UK and Australia. Tuhin says the next step is to make the comic book available locally in other countries. One copy also lies with the National Art Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In India, Menstrupedia is looking at partnering with schools and NGOs to make it available to young girls in India. The first edition came out in English while the second edition will release in February in Hindi as well. A Nepali version of 1000 copies will also be coming out in 2015. Recently, a comic called Priya’s Shakti came out that discussed rape. While Tuhin is happy that the medium of comic is being used to address social issues, he would have preferred that the story did not focus so much on Hindu gods and goddesses. “That way it is alienating followers of other religion. Also I would have loved to see the protagonist fight back all on her own or may be with the help of other women/men instead of relying on a divine intervention; that would have made the protagonist come out stronger,” he ends.