Where can I practice Assamese typing
With comics against prejudice
"Against stigmatization of menstruation"
Menstruation is rarely discussed in India. Reason: women are considered impure during their period. With the aim of eliminating misunderstandings about menstruation, Aditi Gupta and her husband Tuhin Paul created the educational comic 'Menstrupedia'. Menstrupedia ’is now available in 15 languages. In addition to English, Spanish and Russian, the comics are available in eleven regional languages of India: from Assamese to Telugu. A conversation with the founder about purity, shame and feminism in India.
By Natalie Mayroth
Ms. Gupta, how did you come to make a comic about menstruation?
Menstrupedia grew out of my experience of being stigmatized for menstruating. My work started the first time I spoke openly about it to a man. That was during my design studies with my colleague Tuhin. We were 25 years old at the time.
How did he react to that?
He was a little sad because no one had told him beforehand what his mother experienced every month. He would have liked to help her or do her something good, but he couldn't.
Do you think women would like to be treated differently during their days?
Everyone would prefer understanding, but breaking a taboo is too uncomfortable. For example, many victims of sexual violence keep their experiences to themselves. That is why many cases of child abuse and sexual harassment remain hidden.
I read in a travel guide that cooks in India are not allowed to work when they are on their period.
Many Gujarat households still do not allow women to cook during menstruation. This practice was originally intended to give women a break from household chores. However, the way to portray women as "unclean" has manifested itself. I have no problem with families wanting to give their mothers and daughters some rest, but it has a hypocritical side. You can give a woman menstrual leave without her being unclean to brand.
Are there any other restrictions on women in India in this regard?
In front of many public places there are signs saying “No shoes”, “No cameras”, “Menstruating women prohibited”. Women are not allowed to visit temples while they are bleeding because their bodies are considered temples themselves. But a temple cannot go into a temple. And that again shows the power of patriarchy.
Can you explain the concept of “purity and shame” in more detail?
It's a systematic way of controlling women. There is an excellent book Purity and Hazard by Mary Douglas. I don't know who equated woman's honor with her vagina. But I see that sex is so stigmatized. There are many arguments about the "honor" of women. If you look at the history of war and conflict, women are raped and children are killed.
What were your experiences in India when you were young?
I was born at a time when many female fetuses have been aborted. For that I was still fine. It's a sad joke, but it's true. I was lucky that my parents are so open-minded. As a girl, I didn't have any sanitary napkins. Not because we couldn't afford them, but because it was too uncomfortable to buy. That affected my self-confidence and my education. I had to use scraps of fabric. They're more sustainable, but not pleasant and I had to hide them. I remember how terrible it was during the rainy season to ride my bike to school on my period.
Why is it important for you to talk about this topic?
In India, around half of women do not use hygiene products during their period. In the next five years, 55 million girls in India will have their first period. Because of the stigma, 88 percent of them will believe that it is not a natural process. There's a reason for that. Check out the textbooks they use in school - the chapter on menstruation is missing. Only small schools sometimes deal with the subject. There is a great sense of shame in our society and all teachers grew up with it.
Where does the shame come from?
It has to do with how women are brought up. My mother internalized the feeling of shame. I live in a culture where there is an ubiquitous sense of sin. People believe that touching sacred objects during menstruation makes them unclean because religious institutions pass it on.
Is that a phenomenon in Hindu culture?
There are stigmata in other religions as well. In Muslim communities, women are not allowed to wear henna on their hands during their days. In Jain families, women sometimes have to sleep on thin mats on the floor instead of in bed. When I had my days, I always went to Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) to pray. There were no signs prohibiting women from entering once a month. So in the first four years of my engineering degree, many believed that I was Punjabi and of the Sikh religion.
How do you know how families handle this?
I became a 'shameless girl' for my work. I have visited many families in Gujarat. And learned that this taboo has nothing to do with the family's financial background. In fact, I have experienced more resistance in the middle class than in the villages. Women are the greatest advocates of their own oppression.
In fact, it is difficult to buy stigma-free condoms. That is why young women order online.
I know. It is almost easier to buy drugs than sanitary towels or condoms. But that is slowly changing. It was the first sanitary napkin advertisement that featured real blood. The company we work with launched the #touchthepickels campaign. With which the common practice is questioned whether women are really not allowed to touch pickles, the popular Indian 'pimples' during their days.
How did you convince your family otherwise?
I got them involved. For our first prototype in Hindi, which we designed while we were still in college, my mother was the editor. Then when we quit our jobs to work full time for Menstrupedia to work, they were a little annoyed. But that is gone. My mother always has a copy with her to show. Tuhin's mother edited the Bengali edition.
What did you learn from the intensive discussion?
When we started we thought the concept of "shame" was an Indian problem. We had a rough idea that it could be a South Asian problem. But after my TED talk, I got an overwhelming response, even from Italy and the USA.
The comic is recommended for girls aged nine and over. Isn't that a little early?
Talking about your period is important before it starts. That is why we explain the process from chapter to chapter. The reason we chose a comic is because nobody feels offended. You have to respect the culture of the people. Parents certainly don't want their daughters to read a "dirty book." As a result, we've simplified a lot. Personally, I prefer a menstrual cup, but I don't think a nine-year-old would like it. That's why we're talking about disposable and reusable pads. I'm not sure if India is ready for this, but we want to make this book for boys and parents too, education is our activism.
Natalie Mayroth works as a journalist and photographer and has reported in the past mainly from China and India. Her focus is on social and cultural issues - from equality to pop culture. She completed her master's degree in European ethnology, sociology and Iranian studies at the LMU Munich.
Copyright: © Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan New Delhi
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