Comics for a cause!

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Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul tell Janani Rajeswari. S about their brain child ‘Menstrupedia’, a comic that aims to break stereotypes associated with menstrual periods and to spread the word about the importance of hygiene. Red was beauty, was love, was passion, was dreams. And then I grew up and something changed. And the good of red escaped…. is how a video on menstruation goes. On similar lines, “Kya mein bimaar hoon? (Am I ill?) is the thought that crosses a girl’s mind when she gets her period for the first time.

This brings us to the vital question if the right tools in place to help girls understand what’s really happens to them while menstruating? No, says Aditi Gupta, co-founder of Menstrupedia. This is probably what made Aditi and husband Tuhin Paul come up with a comic that tells girls and women everything about menstruation and hygiene associated with it. “Something that spoke about the issue on a lighter vein while remaining accessible, entertaining and easy to understand,” explains Aditi.

The concept and conception

Aditi recounts how she faced many restrictions during her periods like many other women and girls do in India today. From being ostracised from the household to being curious about using sanitary napkins, Aditi realised she knew very little about the monthly phenomenon. This was the first step to conceiving an idea about creating an education tool about menstruation for girls.

For starters, during their days at National Institute of Design (NID), Aditi and Tuhin decided to conduct a survey about the awareness levels among girls and women in India in 2009. A majority of girls still remained unaware.

“Most girls get their first period at the age of 10 or 11 years. However, they learn about the whole concept only in Class 9 in school. Many teachers skip the lesson on reproductive organs as they remain too hesitant to talk about it explicitly in class. Even questions are omitted on the topic in the exam,” she adds. Also, parents and teachers find it difficult to approach kids about the subject owing to lack of an educational material that keep shame and hesitation at bay.

Menstrupedia and its prototype

Aditi and Tuhin chose the print media to reach out to their target audience- girls who are yet to attain puberty, those who’ve just got their periods and others who got their periods some time ago. “We decided to go with the print medium since not everyone would have access to digital medium. So, we thought a comic book would offer an excellent scope for incorporating stories and characters to teach them about periods. It’s also quite engaging and helps young readers learn the concept all by themselves and make the job easier for parents and teachers,” says Tuhin.

So, during their research among young girls, their parents and teachers, the duo collected several anecdotes about menstruation from the girls and found that these stories were a great way for girls to discuss periods. They first created a prototype (http://www. talesofchange.in/) to validate the effectiveness and then did a pilot test.

“The response was indeed very encouraging. Parents and teachers were happy with the treatment of the subject sans any kind of obscenity. In fact, the visuals in the book made it much easier for the parents and teachers to explain menstruation and helped them overcome their hesitation about the subject,” says Aditi. This prototype reached out to nearly 500 girls through various NGOs. The prototype has been used in different forms – role plays, PPTs, comics and so on- depending on the audience. For instance, one of the resource persons used the prototype to discuss a subject like menstruation with Buddhist nuns. Interestingly, the nuns were very open to discussing the tabooed subject and also cleared all their doubts.

The overwhelming response to the prototype paved way for the comic ‘Menstrupedia’.

The story of ‘Menstrupedia’

Aditi points out that there was always the need for an educational tool that offered information on a lighter vein. “Previously, if there was a book on sex education, kids could never read them in front the parents. We wished to create something that was easy to read, entertaining and accessible to everyone,” she adds.

So, that adds to the responsibility with respect to the content. Tuhin adds that they have been culturally conscious with the content of the book. “The book was largely written based from the perspective of teachers, parents and NGOs because they are our buyers. However, young girls are our readers,” clarifies Aditi.

The book revolves around four characters: Pinki (who is yet to get her periods), Mira (who has just got her periods), Jiya (who has already got her periods and is bogged down by myths) and Priya and is in the form of a candid chat between these characters. Priya is a young doctor who answers the queries of the three girls. It is also intercepted with real life incidents gathered during the research phase. For instance, in one of the stories, the brother of the character thinks that the sanitary pad is a blotting paper. He even spills some ink and tries blotting it with the pad. “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,” explains Aditi.

Reaction and feedback

Aditi reveals that the reaction to ‘Menstrupedia’ has been extremely encouraging. Many women wondered why this comic book was not available when they were growing up, she says. Interestingly, feedbacks come from men as well. Following the feedback from this reading group, the second edition of the book underwent some changes including the cover.

“The comic handles practical issues. We included content on hormonal changes, mood swings, and reasons for cramps and so on,” says Aditi. Interestingly, the comic has also gained international fame with copies being sent to South America, Uruguay, Manila, Philippines, US and UK. “We are proud to say that ‘Menstrupedia’ was purchased by the prestigious National Art Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Into other languages The duo, Aditi and Tuhin, are looking at bringing out ‘Menstrupedia’ in Hindi and Nepalese to make it more accessible. It was even translated into Spanish in Uruguay.

A peek into the future

However, Aditi says that printing cost being a challenge, they hope to create an audiovisual version of the comic soon.

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