social & justice

WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: Aditi Gupta

Karthika S Nair | Mar 20 2020
Image credits: Youtube

Aditi Gupta: Breaking Menstrual Taboos, One Cartoon At A Time

"Healthy and hygienic menstruation is not just a woman's issue, it is a human rights issue." - Aditi Gupta. 

There are many ways in which patriarchy has successfully put women in the four walls of her home. Menstrual taboo is one of them. Menstruation, as a process, signifies womanhood and it marks a woman's fertility or the ability to produce life. Unlike men's reproductive system, the odds are not 100% in women's favour or control. Menstruation is something that happens in a woman every month and she cannot control its arrival or amount of flow. Which means that she has to adapt and focus. 

The customs over the years have succeeded in making menstruation into something that women should be ashamed of and hide. Shame related to menstruation became taboos and taboos became rituals. 

Soon, every religion started adopting it in a way that it oppressed women for centuries. 

Few women have managed to tackle the taboos and bring conversations related to health, hygiene, and the human rights aspects of it to the mainstream. Aditi Gupta is one of the few women to do so. Her fight against menstrual taboos has helped her enter the Forbes list. 

Early Life And Education

Aditi Gupta was born in a very orthodox family in Garhwa in Jharkhand. Her parents valued education more than anything else. She finished her graduation in engineering and is a New Media Design post-graduate from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad, Gujarat. 

Her family's orthodox nature introduced her to several forms of oppression women had to face. On her paternal side, girls were married off immediately after they finished the 10th grade. She started getting marriage proposals when she was as young as 13 years of age. 

Her father's determination to provide her and her brother the best education is what prevented it from happening.

The biggest challenge she faced as a woman was after she started having periods. She was asked not to get sanitary napkins from shops as it might "ruin her family's dignity." So, she did not buy her first sanitary napkin until she was 15 years of age. 

She was made to lie down separately, wash her clothes separately. She was prevented from touching other people's things like bed, utensils, and places of worship. Religious fundamentalist aspects oppressed her and women like her further.

While doing her college, Aditi came to realise that there is a severe lack of awareness about menstruation and this makes girls vulnerable. 

Menstrupedia 

Along with her husband Tuhin Paul, Aditi Gupta founded Menstrupedia to help educate girls about their bodies and their functions. She did research on the subject and collected information from doctors and others. 

She started a comic book about three young girls and doctors who explained their body functions to them. She knew that comic books were the best way to communicate an idea to kids. 

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Image credit" Twitter

The comic book idea began as a thesis project while she and her husband were at the National Institute of Design. She also launched a website 'menstrupedia.com' to disseminate information about menstrual hygiene and the human body.

They designed the website such that it gave easy access to information in a culturally sensitive society that still follows menstrual taboos. 

Her work earned her praise from various sections. Menstrupedia comics are available in fourteen languages and have been utilised in more than 18 countries across the world. 

Menstrupedia collaborated with Whisper India to start anti-taboo movements such as Touch the Pickle. Several A-list celebrities such as Parineeti Chopra and Shraddha Kapoor gave their support. 

Aditi Gupta's success as an entrepreneur got her featured in Forbes 30 Under 30 list. 

Menstruation Still A Taboo Subject

Though Aditi Gupta's work was well-received by the media, it also faced criticisms from religious fundamentalists who follow the taboos in an orthodox manner. 

Menstruating women are expected not to enter temples, touch idols or do pooja. She spoke out against many gruesome rituals like the menstrual hut practice that is still persistent in India and Nepal. 

Recently, after the Bhuj college incident where girls were forced to take off their underwear to show that they were not menstruating, Gupta spoke against the taboos on India channels. 

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Image credit: Youtube

She specifically highlighted that menstruation is a human rights issue that might affect the economy. 

Women cannot control when and how they menstruate. Due to the severe degree of social ostracisation and lack of proper hygienic products, a lot of girls are forced to drop out of schools and colleges. Women suffer from health issues like poly cystic ovarian disorder (PCOD), dysmenorrhea (period cramps), premenstrual dysphonic disorder (PMDD), and abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB). Taboos stop women from talking about it to their near and dear ones. Plenty of women don't go to work due to the same reason and this affects the nation's economy by widening the gender gap in the education and employment sector. 

Also, sanitary napkins are still very expensive and it is made with materials that affect the environment for eg: plastic. Due to women like Aditi Gupta, there is a sense of awareness and need to bust myths.