Website and comic book ‘Menstrupedia’ breaks taboo across India

Website and comic book ‘Menstrupedia’ breaks taboo across India
Indigenous tribal Kandha women wait to cast their votes near a polling station at Sirlla village in Kandhamal district, in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, Thursday, April 10, 2014. Photo: AP
Encyclopedia addresses menstrual hygiene to educate girls who view it as a ‘disease’ or ‘curse’
Published: 3:58 PM, April 11, 2014
Updated: 3:59 PM, April 11, 2014
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MUMBAI — A new website and comic book called “Menstrupedia” aims to shatter the taboo surrounding periods in conservative India, where millions of girls face social discrimination, reproductive health problems and low self-esteem due to lack of awareness about menstruation.

A girl’s first period is often celebrated in many Western countries, marking her move into puberty and then womanhood. Yet in both rural and urban India, menstruation is rarely discussed openly, and the silence burdens young girls by keeping them ignorant and subject to social exclusion.

Even after girls’ first menstrual cycle, parents and teachers feel uncomfortable informing them about the physiological process and hygiene practices to follow.

“The taboo has led to numerous menstrual myths being created which suggest that having your period is a disease or a curse — which leads girls and women to believe they are dirty and impure,” said Ms Aditi Gupta, a social entrepreneur and co-founder of Menstrupedia.

“Menstruating girls and women are not allowed to go to the temple, or touch certain food as it is thought it will go bad. They don’t know about hygiene, and end up with rashes and urinary tract infections,” said Ms Gupta. “The idea behind Menstrupedia is to help end these issues.”

Menstrupedia’s 90-page comic book and online platform integrate fun real-life stories and colourful illustrations to build menstrual awareness.

The website and comic market themselves as an encyclopedia about periods, discussing issues including puberty and the physiology behind menstruation, as well as menstrual myths.

Both also seek to address menstrual hygiene, which is a key problem for many girls who do not know how to keep themselves clean, resulting in infection and illness. Currently only 12 per cent of girls and women in India use sanitary towels, with most using a piece of cloth that is washed and reused.

“Surveys show that 80 per cent of girls are unaware of what menstruation is before they get their periods. It can be frightening to see blood coming from your vagina,” Ms Gupta told Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the Sankalp Unconvention Summit, one of Asia’s biggest gatherings for social enterprises.

“When girls enter puberty, they can often deny their bodies. But it is essential for them to accept their bodies in order to be empowered from within. This will make them less vulnerable to discrimination as they will be able to stand up as informed individuals and dispel the myths.”

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