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By Raza Naqvi
DELHI, India - In the world’s second most populous nations, shame and stigma stops millions of girls from learning about their own bodies.
“In India, the biggest challenge to educating people about their periods is shame,” says Aditi Gupta, an activist who founded a unique, fun and educational comic book for girls.
According to Dasra, around 23 million girls in India drop out of school each year through a lack of menstrual hygiene facilities, and many more miss schools whilst on their period.
Ms Gupta’s ‘Menstrupedia’ comic offers vital information on managing menstrual hygiene in a relatable way, as each character represents a different stage of adolescence.
In one story, Priya Didi (Didi means sister in Hindi) who is a doctor, explains puberty to her younger cousin Pinki. When Pinki’s friend Jiya gets her first period at her birthday party, Priya Didi takes the chance to teach the girls about menstrual health.
“The response was overwhelming,” says Ms Gupta. “We were able to bust myths around menstruation and reach out to thousands of schools and millions of girls.”
Menstrupedia is now used in over 7500 schools across India, reaching over 1.2 million.
Building on this, Ms Gupta now works with 11 state governments to raise awareness of menstrual hygiene management in schools and communities. Her comics have been translated into 18 languages and are now used in places as far away as South America.
Yet changing attitudes in the education system is key to real change, Ms Gupta believes. “The way menstruation is tackled in school textbooks here is shocking,” she says.
“Sometimes the word vagina is censored. Students are taught about the digestive system, but the reproductive system is skipped. They are told to learn about it alone,” she says.
Yet projects like Menstrupedia is helping break down these taboos, and sex education is now included in India’s main high-school curriculum.
“Our biggest win is that we have started a movement where people now can talk openly about menstruation,” she says. “Menstrupedia helps people to rise above shame and discomfort.”
Looking forward, Ms Gupta is planning on releasing a similar comic for boys. The new book will be called "Gullu," which means sweet in Hindi.
“Gullu will teach boys about their private parts and hygiene,” she says. “It will also include chapters on menstruation to educate boys about periods as well.”