Read how Aditi Gupta is giving voice to an unspoken topic that is considered taboo in India, while educating young girls in an engaging way and creating a better future for them.

Aditi Gupta: Shattering taboos with Menstrupedia. Period.

Through her website and comic book, she’s relentlessly working to educate young girls, their families, and society at large about menstruation, health of young girls, and hygienic practices. One step at a time, she’s breaking the shackles of conservative customs and creating a better, safer future for young girls. 

Meet Aditi Gupta, co-founder of Menstrupedia. She has made it to the Forbes 30 under 30 list, is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and her TED Talk has received a standing ovation. Her ground-breaking work has been featured by The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CNBC, and BBC. In this interview, she shares her personal experiences, the challenges she faced, and some positive changes she has witnessed. 

Some excerpts:

What was it that inspired you to launch Menstrupedia?

Like most girls, I started menstruating when I was 12, but I did not learn about it till I was 15 – when it was taught to me in school. While my family never discussed menstruation, they followed all the customs and practices that seemed illogical to me. I was asked to not enter the kitchen, to sleep separately, not touch the place of worship, not touch pickles, etc. I was not even allowed to buy sanitary napkins as it was deemed to be shameful; something that will affect the dignity of my family. I had to use old clothes to fashion a napkin. I realised there were a lot of girls who had similar unpleasant experiences. This lack of awareness/hygiene and prevalence of orthodox practices is what inspired me to start Menstrupedia.

What is Menstrupedia and what does it aim to achieve?

Menstrupedia is a guide on menstruation for young girls. It educates them on what it is, shatters myths, and provides the right information – which they may not get from their families. It teaches them about staying hygienic, healthy, and active during their periods. The stories revolve around three young girls – one who hasn't yet started on her period, one who has just begun, and one who has had it for some time. It talks about their experiences, which young girls find to be relatable. The information is available on online channels as well as a comic book in various regional languages. The website has a Q&A section where people can ask questions related to menstruation. There is also a blog, which is a platform for girls/women to share their life stories and experiences with menstruation.

What was the initial reaction of the community to your initiative, considering that menstruation is still a taboo topic in India?

Menstruation in India is a cultural issue. It is a rarely discussed topic – in families, schools, and colleges. It is considered shameful and has twisted religious connotations. There was much criticism from the community when we first started. A lot of religious leaders said we may be doing good by spreading awareness, but we knew nothing about its religious aspect. But we believed in our purpose and vision. As Melinda Gates called it, Menstrupedia is a great creative solution to a tough cultural challenge.

Was it difficult to get financial backing for Menstrupedia?

It was challenging to raise funds. Most investors told us it was not a viable business idea and that there was no market for it. Many even asked us if we were an NGO. It was difficult convincing them this is something that will work, and is worth their time and money. That’s when we decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign. We received a tremendous response as people loved what we were attempting to do. We were able to raise more money than we needed at that time. This strengthened our belief in Menstrupedia.

What are some of the positive changes you have witnessed since you started Menstrupedia?

A common feedback we get is, ‘Where was this book when I was growing up?’ A lot of girls have told us that it’s been immensely helpful in educating them about menstruation and enabling them to talk freely about the same. We believe we are slowly changing the way menstruation is a looked at, and creating a positive dialogue around it. However, changing orthodox mindsets takes time and there’s a lot that has to be done. We believe we are moving in the right direction. It takes just one generation to change the mindset of the entire family. For example, my mother may believe in a lot of myths, but if I am educated and well aware, I will not pass them on to my daughter, and so on. This is how we break the chain.

Is there a link between the onset of menstruation and girls dropping out of school in India?

Most definitely. Research has revealed that a staggering 23 million girls in India drop out of school when they start menstruating. They are encouraged to stay at home and take care of household chores. This means millions of girls do not get a chance to complete high school because of the shame and stigma associated with periods; millions of dreams shattered because of something that is such a natural occurrence.

The comic book approach you have taken to reach your target audience is very interesting. How did that idea come along?

We wanted to explain menstruation in a simple yet effective way. The idea was also to make it relatable and a fun read for young girls. Taking the comic book approach seemed the most organic one. My husband and business partner Tuhin Paul is an artist and storyteller who brought the comic book to life beautifully, and created a fun and engaging experience for young girls.

Today, the book has been incorporated into the curriculum of over 70 schools in India and is being read by students all over the country. It has been translated into a dozen languages and is available in 18 countries around the world, such as Nepal, Brazil, Nigeria, the Philippines, etc.