Real Padman Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham, a social entrepreneur has played a major role in changing the lives of woman by bringing the low-cost pads with his innovation.
But menstruation is still a taboo as still when a girl gets into periods, 88% of girls in India use unhygienic ways to manage their cycles and in schools when it is taught, it is taught in purely academic fashion leaving behind the practical aspects of menstruation, research shows that 3 out of every 10 girls in India doesn’t know about periods till she gets her first period.
On the same pain point two young minds, to break such secrecy on the very natural thing, came up with a comic book.
Today we are talking about one of the accomplished Social entrepreneur, Aditi Gupta and her visionary Husband Mr. Tuhin Paul , the name that revolutionised Menstruation by their unique comic book called Menstrupedia, that provides period’s knowledge in a very interactive way. So before we take you to the journey of Menstrupedia, We would like to tell you about the face of the Company, the strong personality who has also achieved forbes 30 under 30 in 2014, who has been a TED speaker inspiring many with her vision and mission.
Here is the link to her TED Talk:
Let me take you to the childhood of this vivacious lady, Aditi Gupta, who was born in a small town called Garhwa located in Jharkhand, which is a beautiful place laden with natural beauty.
Recalling her childhood, Aditi said that,” Her home was surrounded by a sound rustic ambience and nearby a river bank and her childhood was filled with a lot of games & was playful, she and her brother would go and catch fishes sitting at the river-shore and during the summer they had so many fireflies around that beautiful landscape.”But it was not different from regular youths of India when it came to after-schooling education, like most of the youth of India, even Aditi plunged into engineering, she did her engineering in Electronics & Instrumentation after her 12th, but while pursuing engineering she had started exploring a lot of other things other than engineering and had found her dream canvas in creativity, so after engineering she studied new media design which basically falls under Interaction Design at the National Institute of Design, Gandhinagar.
She didn’t had any idea at that time that what NID Gandhinagar had kept for her to unfold, as NID was the place, where she met Tuhin, her now Husband and then BF.
Tuhin was one of her classmate and not love, but ideas and team work was first to bring them closer as Aditi & Tuhin used to do a lot of projects together, Infact all of their project were done together & working together was the reason why they fell in love with each other and why they started working at Menstrupedia.
At NID most of their projects were related to learning and education or making communication tools for teaching kids or teaching elders & simplifying the concept for them. So after their post-graduation from NID, both the husband wife went to work for an e-learning company as they wanted to explore more in that field.
Menstrupedia’s seed were planted at NID along with their love.
During menstrual cycle Aditi used to get a lot of menstrual cramps and because of that for that particular period, she won’t sound that chirpy and boisterous and that was keenly noticed by her then caring boyfriend Tuhin, so he used to ask her again and again like What happened? Are you not well? Is that something I can do for you? So one day Aditi disclosed that every girl gets their period after a certain age and it happens every month & it’s very healthy. For Tuhin it was a shock and he just freaked out, because he didn’t had any sister, so he didn’t get any hint of what girls go through every month. So after hearing her he was like,” so much of blood is coming out of your body & you are saying that it’s healthy?” (Aditi used to laugh at his innocence on this topic)
But for Aditi it was normal, that her BF didn’t had much idea about periods as she grew up with that surroundings where one shouldn’t talk about periods, all that restrictions that people follow during periods were followed at her place,so she grew up with a lot of stigma like not sitting on sofa, not touching the pickle jar etc. But this didn’t go well with Tuhin, when he got to know all these through Aditi, firstly he was surprised that he hardly had much idea about this, though he was 25 years old then and so well educated, but still he didn’t know what his gf & mother was going through every month and secondly also he was shocked with the outlook that society has for this essential body process.
Unbearable of all this secrecy, he used to go on internet, and for hours together look for the information and share those information with Aditi and to Aditi’s surprise, even she was unaware about a lot of things and she then realized how she was conditioned to believe that, it is alright to be unaware about menstruation and had accepted the social norms around it, without questioning it. She realized how she has been so occupied in this social norm without questioning it and though she was so well educated, still was not aware about some basic facts pertaining to periods. So the couples were like it is such a basic information, but so much of taboo and so much of stigma it is surrounded with, that it becomes huge & nobody talks about it, it then struck to them so they wanted to do something and they saw it more like a Communication Design problem. So Tuhin and Aditi thought to work on this together considering it as a communication design problem and thought it should be taught in a right way. Why communication design problem? Because in the college & schools we have been studying, memorizing & giving exams for so many complex concepts but getting a period is a very simple concept, In fact first of all it is very essential for menstruation to propogate what they saw, she &Tuhin used to sit & think if periods won’t be there, I & him won’t be there, our mother won’t have been able to conceive & so much of shaming is happening on that, the stains are so much shameful and also so much of restrictions are imposed upon girls, pretext as impure, this is quite bizarre, it should be on the other way round, also it’s a very simple process that when a girl’s body become sexually mature and egg is released from her ovaries every month, if it is fertilized, then results to pregnancy and the issue is people want to neglect why periods happen but only want to remember that this is something we shouldn’t talk about.
Glimpse of comic book: Menstrupedia
The work of creating awareness about the menstruation, basically started at NID as a part of their Final year project.
This project was an year long research project, they did an extensive research by visiting the schools, talking to parents, girls, doctors, grandmothers, fathers and collected information and then they realized that when Aditi was growing up, she got her periods in class 7th and the teachers still skipped the chapter, but then in 2009, girls had started getting their period in class 5th itself.
Initially they were battling with many ideas for creating the medium to reach small girls, as both were interaction design students, so they headed with making a computer game, but after making that computer game Aditi realized the loopholes in that, like not all girls would have access to computers, internet or electricity to begin with, so how can they distribute that things when there is a limited access to it, so they finally decided to go with print media, because print-media was most inclusive media and in the country like India where even if the world is moving with the 4th industrial revolution, we don’t have electricity in many of the places, so finally they went with the print media in form of a comic book, which was Tuhin’s idea and in that Aditi was the research person, she used to collect all the data and share all the information with Tuhin and he used to come up with the final decision of which is a good model. As Tuhin was always into animation, graphic narratives and also he was reading a lot about story-telling and graphic narrative, but most importantly he was reading about how graphic narrative & story-telling has helped people in breaking barrier in conservative societies about topics that are not talked about like racism, sexual harassment, molestation and in lot of other countries this medium was used in a very effective way to touch the chords of such issues and talk about them.
There is an inherent shame associated with periods; So Menstrupedia was started with two main objectives, first to eliminate the sense of shame associated with menstruation by portraying it in the positive light and secondly to help young girls learn about menstruation in their own in a fun and interesting way.
Comic book was to empower girls with the knowledge in a light moment so that they can break this stigma, one thing that they particularly were concerned about was that it should be culturally sensitive, like for eg, growth of breast happens that they won’t show in a bare body but rather under the cloth, but their main concern was to show the girls that there are 3 openings between the leg apart from vagina and it has to be cleaned properly during periods and main thing is most of the woman did not know that how to use tampon, they only knew that one needs to put that from where you pee, but the fact was the openings of urination and bleeding are different, so it is very difficult in our society to talk about vagina, urethra, so to talk about this anatomy they had created an individual character a “Didi” in Menstrupedia to draw the anatomy and it’s like drawn in a way where it is not fully rendered, but at least the difference between three openings are cleared, so that Urinary tract infection are avoided.
Here is the image:
“I and Tuhin made this book for a 9 year old me”, says Aditi. They both kept in mind the tender age that is associated to the readers of this comic book, they wanted even a small girl should be easily able to read this book, but they were surprised with the response on this comic book, it was not only ordered by small city or villages but ordered by 18 other countries apart from India and people are using Menstrupedia comic book to teach and learn about menstruation, the same book is locally printed in Uruguay in South America in Spanish andalso Nepali books get printed in Kathmandu and they are distributed there itself. In 2014, Menstrupedia collaborated with Whisper India to connect with more number of Schools and launched “Touch the Pickle” movement in four different cities.
Aditi and Tuhin are happy about how now menstruation has come as a part of this popular culture’s conversation because When they had started their blog there were absolutely no blog which was talking about menstruation,and at that time 10k-30k shares of their blog stories were very common. And thereafter all the other big platforms started picking up like Scoopwoop, womankiawaazetcand as this kind of Platforms have more followers, and more readably they were happy that it is reaching more and more people, also slowly & gradually it came to TV then to films, all this cumulatively was able to break the taboo and at easy to make our generation speak about it.
People used to ask them, why you don’t take workshops for parents, mothers, grandmothers, because ultimately they are responsible for all this taboo, they tell their kids that it is secret, it is shameful and all, on that Aditi replies,” No, I want to empower the todays generation at that level where they themselves break the shackle of all this, I want to empower that 9 year old, so tomorrow when she becomes mother she doesn’t body shame her daughter and then her daughter won’t pass to her daughter.”
When it comes to distribution of menstrupedia, when they began they had really small funds, they crowdfunded for the books, their target was 4 lakhs but they ended up raising 5.15 lakhs for the development and printing of the Comic book. When they launched their website, people used to love the way they communicated and loved the menstrupedia guide. People were referring to other people to look at their website and were talking about it in their work space; we make sure that at least it is cool about talking period. All the marketing that started about menstrupedia were started with social media , FB and Aditi used to do it, but mostly it was all about word of mouth, they hadn’t done any focused marketing all this 4 years since it was established, people came to know about us, they wrote about them, like that only P& G got to know about them and approached them to collaborate and she is very grateful to them as because of their partnership they were able to decrease the prices of the book. Right now they are working with more than 250 Schools and recently Andhra Pradesh Govt. distributed Menstrupedia comic books in 122 schools across 11 districts and many more schools came on board in January, even international partnership happened like that, people knew about it, they came to them to run a pilot with the book, associates were happy about how it was helping them in an effective way, and they wanted to do it in a large scale, so now it has been 3 years that Menstrupedia have been partnered in Nepal and Uruguay.
After the crowd funding Menstrupedia was quite sustainable, also they had fund coming after sell of the books so didn’t need any additional investment as used to generate enough revenues by the sale of the book to make more products, right now their books are in 14 different languages, they have an audio-visual book, they are also working for a guide for boys. Initially their all savings were exhausted into making of this book, they had put a small amount of 2 lakhs into it and it’s amazing how fruitful that amount has become that right now on their website they get 1.5 lakhs of visitors in month.
When asked on how confident they were about this comic book initially, they told us that, “As a designer they were very user centric, first of all they dedicated their time in understanding why people are not ready to speak about menstruation? because they understand that they need to solve this question rather than the societal problem, they need to focus on the social behavioral which is supposed to be shamed and tried to work upon this with their communication design strategy.”
For those who don’t know, Aditi also has started with beautiful Adinari Handmade Jewelleries that is now into a good business, so let us know how she gets to manage and take out time for it, being so occupied in her work and also events.
Aditi says that she is very crafty person in general, where Tuhin is more of a business person, he keeps on reading lots of books on business and finance, but she always had to do something with her own hands. She says,” But when you start your company you end up working 24 hours to make it and you don’t get time for anything else apart from taking care of the company, but then slowly we had stabilized our Company and started getting a bit of time as also we had other team members now to take care of it, so we started a bit of managing the work-life balance that was lost somewhere and started finishing with our office by 7pm and back to home.”
Like this she was left with good amount of time and so she picked up making earrings for herself but without fail used to always put a tutorial of it on Instagram page, it was becoming obsessive for her and it became then routine to enjoy her after office time on art and craft, she also used to gift her friends initially and also some of her friends would not ask, but just take it from her as they loved the design and soon many of the followers who were not her friend would like it on Instagram and started messaging her and commenting on her posts showing willingness to buy it. So though it had started with a hobby, it got converted into a business because of public demand.
Further Aditi says,” At that time I was not sure about how to monetize that, but the good thing about monetizing is, that now she generates a lot of money to buy more craft supply. But soon Adinari’s business thrived and soon people across India started ordering Adinari handmade Jewelleries and also people apart from India like Canada, Bahrain, US etc. So she had to hire a dedicated person for Adinari, to help her into manufacturing it, and as because of Menstrupedia they already had a logistic team in place, so logistic was a piece of cake for them, also they already had office, so they had invested a small amount on Adinari and started a business, but till date it has always been cash positive.
Aditi calls herself as one of the product of the startup eco-system who are pampered more (giggling out) , she further says,”But on a serious note, I do agree that entrepreneurs are over celebrated and they are overrated, I think at the end of the day every business has to be a business, making profits, employability and innovation should be basic, so right now with “make in India” and with the current startup scenario I think it is very useful to overhype this because this is an alternative career path, so earlier our youth had 2-3 paths like becoming lawyer, doctor, engineer, but now as there is so much of focus on the startup system you can become job creators. And it depends from individual to individual that you want to just become influential or do meaningful work or make use of the hype and create something which lasts not for 2-3 years but for decades.”
She and Tuhin both are responsible for wherever Menstrupedia is, but when it came to making the face of the company purposefully, Aditi went ahead because woman talking about ovaries, vagina is quite good.
When we ask her if she has any advice for Startupreneurs, she replied, ”My Advise to startup in general is that first of all work around the problem, don’t work around solutions, not every problems solution is an app or website, so design around your problem not around the solution, and prototypes are very important like for example market research, so always keep yourself in the shoe of users.”
We hope that Menstrupedia is included in the course by each and every School of India and that way killing the taboo on puberty, on girl’s body and Periods!