When Aditi Gupta and Tuhin Paul left their cushy jobs in 2012 to pursue period education as a career, they faced a lot of resistance. It was a new concept for everyone in India. Aditi and Tuhin, now Menstrupedia Co-Founders, wanted to launch Menstrupedia comic–an educational booklet specifically designed to fight period stigma. However, no one believed that a comic book could challenge the deep stigma. Their families warned them and told them they were wasting time and risking their careers. Nine years later, Mestrupedia is part of the curriculum in 11,000 schools in India and is available in 17 different languages and seven countries.
These numbers speak for themselves. When it comes to period education in India, Menstrupedia is the most trusted company today. In the past decade, they have played an instrumental role in destigmatising periods in India. They organise menstrual literary camps to explain menstruation and the stigmas surrounding it in the most uncomplicated manner. They have also been training the future crop of period educators through talks and intervention programs. Whatever they have learned in the past decade, they share it all through these camps and classes.
In 2020, period education faced a huge setback amid the pandemic. Menstrupedia too faced challenges. When all the schools were shut, there were no comics to be sold, and no period education camps to be organised. However, instead of seeing it as a crisis, Aditi rose to the occasion and pivoted her business into online workshops and masterclasses.
“We have set out to put a dent in the universe by challenging the social norms and we have been able to do that. How could we let all of it go to waste,” she says. All thanks to Menstrupedia’s online initiative, period education was soon steered in the right direction. Today, parents, healthcare professionals, and educators across the globe are attending these workshops.
Aditi’s vision is simple–to create a system that is capable of questioning period stigma even in a world where Menstrupedia does not exist. With her empathetic leadership, Aditi is constantly chasing this dream. She proved her prowess as an efficient leader and changemaker in 2020 by diversifying her approach to menstrual education. With the POPxo Power Women List 2020, we are celebrating changemakers like her who went the extra mile, swiftly adapted to the new normal and made strides that had a lasting impact. Of course, Aditi had to be a part of this list.
In a recent interaction with POPxo, she talked of being a period educator in India and their latest mission of fixing sex education in India. Read on:
For me, power is freedom. The freedom to pursue my work. The freedom to work on my passions whenever I want to do so. The freedom to work for the kind of change I want to bring. Power is actually the freedom of being able to choose the kind of legacy I want to leave behind and being able to work on it.
By and large those people who raise their voices against period stigma. That said, I read Melinda Gates’ book called The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World and found it very inspirational, especially in 2020. I have read it several times. It is also the fellow entrepreneurs of my time and the kind of changes that they are making that inspire me.
I think the biggest challenge is the perception of gender and the kind of stereotyping that happens. As a woman, you are judged for everything that you do. You are judged for having a career. You are judged for not having a career. You are judged for going back to work after having a child. You are judged for not going back to work after having a child. I think at every point you are just being judged. There is just no winning. We are constantly just subjected to so many stereotypes. Most of the time, we put a lot of effort into just dealing with these challenges and stereotypes instead of doing our work. A lot of our headspace goes here.
I think of myself as a person who believes. I challenge the norms and always try to do the right thing. I work in a space that is very very challenging and there is a lot of stereotyping that needs to be faced. To address all the period shame and stigma that I encounter very often,
I try to be emphatic even towards those who perpetuate all this misinformation in the first place. I try to see things from their perspective, how they are, and why they are behaving in the way that they are behaving. I feel that understanding them better makes me address the issues better. As a leader, I try to understand human behaviour to solve problems.
A good leader should be empathetic. I cannot stress how important this is. There would be people who would be aligned with you, there would be people who would create problems for you and there would be people who would absolutely be oblivious of what you are doing. You can impact them all just by understanding their position.
At Menstrupedia, we have a one-day period leave policy which can be availed as per the choice of the menstruator. These are additional, no questions asked leaves. I am a mother and I used to take my child to the office until he was 5. We had a separate room for him where I could breastfeed him and also had a safe space in the office and around it where the kid could play. We provide the same space to every employee at Menstrupedia.
I strive to create a workspace where everyone feels sensitive about women’s needs. Again, being Menstrupedia, it is not at all difficult for us to have sanitary napkins in the bathroom or talk about periods or period products openly. It’s a norm here.
We also actively hire more and more women. When it comes to women’s participation in the workforce in India, the numbers are dismal. At below 10 percent, we are doing worse than Pakistan and Nepal. This is why we aggressively hire women.
Actually, Menstrupedia became much bigger in 2020 than it was before. Of course, we faced a lot of challenges initially. We could not send the comics. The office was completely shut. This is when mothers and schools started calling us. They would be worried about the gap in menstrual education that the pandemic would bring. There were so many girls who would hit puberty without any information on the topic. So we started Menstrupedia’s masterclasses. We thought that rather than reaching out to every girl right now, let’s empower those who could reach out to these girls in their own community.
Thus we designed our two-hour-long masterclass. Whatever Menstrupedia has learned in a decade of running a period company and challenging social norms, all the knowledge is given away during the masterclass. The participants include doctors, parents, changemakers, and health professionals from all over the world. To date, we have conducted 20 of these workshops with 50 participants each and have had people from 28 different countries.
The First would be that period blood is impure. If we establish what is the composition of the menstrual fluid, what it does and why it is important people would understand that it is anything but impure. Next would be asking menstruating girls to stay away from boys. Menstruation means that a girl has matured sexually and that’s why this myth is often perpetuated in a lot of communities. The third would be that all the blood that we lose during periods results in weakness.
Yes, we are planning to expand. The masterclass is something that we will continue taking because it is very important to make an army of menstrual educators and infuse them with passion. The workshop for parents is something that we would be expanding now. We are hiring more menstrual educators.
While focussing on online intervention, we are also launching a book on boy’s puberty. The Menstrupedia comic changed India by teaching young girls everything that they needed to know about periods. Similarly, Gulu, our book for the boys, is going to tell them about how to behave around girls, masturbation, nightfall, bullying, and addiction. There is a chapter on periods also. It is going to change the way we raise our boys. We keep saying that we raise our girls with shame and we raise our boys with ignorance. With Gulu, we want to change that, we want to change the broken sex education in India.
Featured Image Courtesy: Aditi Gupta