How often has an Indian mother shushed her teenaged daughter as she inadvertently uttered the M-word in company? Too often for Aditi Gupta’s comfort. To the point that the new media graduate from National Institute of Design (NID) now dreams of a future where menstruation is not a taboo subject but a welcome change in a girl’s life. Like many great ideas, this too was drawn from experience. Growing up in Garhwa, a small town in Jharkhand, Gupta had to deal with the shame associated with the act of buying sanitary napkins, and had to resort to using rags.
Later, as part of her final project (for which she won a Ford Foundation scholarship), Gupta and Tuhin Paul (then batchmates, now husband and wife) developed a comic book in Hindi to educate girls about menstruation. In the process, she realised there was very little information available on the subject. “Menstrual unawareness leads to unhygienic menstrual practices, social taboos and low self esteem among girls,” Gupta says.
The prototype for the comic book was tested among 400 schoolgirls. The response was favourable but the project had to be shelved for lack of funds. But what emerged was the need for a website to target a much larger set of users.
The social impact, as she saw it, would be a decrease in cases of reproductive tract infection, in school dropout rates and absenteeism; and an increase in the use of readymade sanitary napkins.
After a year-long research, Gupta with the support of Paul and Rajat Mittal (who provided the technological support) launched Menstrupedia.com . This is an illustrated reference guide that provides medically correct information related to menstruation in an easy-to-understand manner. The site has received an overwhelming response with 70,000 visitors a month who spend an average of 5 minutes on it.
“Aditi’s work on Menstrupedia has fundamentally transformed the way a taboo-ed subject has been perceived in our society. It is so inspiring to see her work going from strength to strength, not only because she is positively impacting the lives of so many young girls but also because her genuine commitment brings forth an innovative approach to spreading awareness on social causes,” says Kanan Dhru, curator, Ahmedabad Global Shapers and the founder of Research Foundation for Governance in India.
The design sensibility too has earned her praise. Anisha Malhotra, education design researcher at the Industrial Design Centre and Gupta’s senior from NID, says: “Menstrupedia is a perfect example of effective communication design with engaging layers of content and beautiful illustrations. The dynamic action-oriented frames and emphasis on facial expressions immediately helps the reader to connect and engage instead of passive reading.”
The couple is using their personal savings and crowdfunding to raise money to sustain the site till they determine other revenue streams. They see a huge untapped market which they propose to capture by partnering with sanitary napkin producers and NGOs to increase their reach to 10 million girls over the next three years. They also see revenue generation through ads and co-branding.
(This story appears in the 21 February, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)