How an Indian Comic Book Is Teaching Girls About Their Periods
When Aditi Gupta got her first period, aged 12, everyone told her to keep it a secret. Even her closest family members in her native India couldn’t know. She was forbidden from worshipping at her temple while she was menstruating, and instead of sanitary products used rags that caused her to have rashes.
“When girls [in India] get their periods, they are considered impure for those 7 days,” Gupta tells TIME. “That is how I grew up, seeing myself as impure. That sense of shame was instilled in me from a very young age.”
She is not alone. In a world where over 5,000 euphemisms are used to describe it, menstruation is one of the oldest and most far-reaching taboos. Especially in India and across South Asia, the reluctance to speak about periods is widespread, resulting in worryingly low education and awareness – particularly among the demographic of adolescent girls, of whom India has some 120 million.
A recent study for Menstrual Hygiene Day reported that 1 out of 3 schoolgirls across South Asia were not aware of periods before experiencing one for the first time, and only 2.5% of the same group knew that menstrual blood came from the uterus. Now, a new generation of social entrepreneurs across the region are looking to break the centuries old taboo, and Gupta is one of those leading the way.