TEDxBangalore speaker Aditi Gupta grew up believing that her monthly menstrual periods were shameful incidents that made her impure, unclean, and should be kept secret from all. The shame she felt surrounding menstruation led to dangerous personal hygiene habits (hiding rags in damp, dark places; using improper sanitary methods) and a lack of confidence in herself and her right to better healthcare.
Now a menstrual health advocate, as a young girl, Gupta’s knowledge of female health was saturated with myths, restrictions, and half-truths, she says in a talk at the event, and a culture of silence around the subject of menstruation in India kept her misinformed for years. The restrictions were plenty: She wasn’t allowed to worship during her menstrual period, sit on the family sofa, attend social events, or even touch pickles, for fear they would rot with her touch. (A recent Times of India article reports that 58% of urban women in the country’s southern states will not touch pickles during their period.)
Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul discuss their comic book, Menstrupedia, at TEDxBangalore
“And this is not just my story,” she says. “This is the story of millions of girls in India who suffer in silence due to the widespread menstrual myths. During my work in spreading awareness about menstruation, I came across stories where girls have to eat and wash their dishes separately … in some households they are even secluded from other family members. Such an outlook is humiliating and damages the self-esteem and the self-confidence of a young girl in her early formative years.”
This culture of shame, silence, and myth is what compelled her and fellow menstrual health advocate Tuhin Paul to create Menstrupedia, a 90-page comic book introducing the concept of menstruation and the basics of female health to young girls in India. At a time when over 88% of girls and women in India use unhygienic ways to manage their menstrual cycles, including ashes and husk sand, and 90% of women surveyed in a Water Supply & Sanitation Collaborative Council study across five different states in the country didn’t know what a menstrual period was before they had their first menses, accurate, accessible, and clear informative is vital, says Gupta and Paul.
“In the absence of proper educational material, [girls] find it very difficult [to ask questions] and are very hesitant to talk about [menstruation],” Gupta says. “And the taboo nature of the subject only makes the situation worse. So in the absence of the proper source of information, it is the misinformation and misconceptions and myths that the girls assimilate and they pass it to their friends and, later, even to their daughters. And this is how menstrual myths propagate from one generation to the next, unquestioned.”
The pair hopes Menstrupedia will be the antidote to India’s menstrual taboo, making female health straightforward, interesting and easy-to-understand. The first chapter of the book can be accessed online, for free, at Menstrupedia.com, where young girls and women are encouraged to ask questions and access health resources.