Out in the open: Memes and YouTube videos challenging menstrual myths

  • Humaira Ansari, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 05, 2015 15:22 IST

Who bleeds blue, other than desi cricket fans? India's 355 million menstruating women, according to every sanitary napkin ad.

Red is taboo, as are periods themselves. Through liberalisation, post-liberalisation and the internet age, women have been told not to pray, enter the kitchen, touch the pickle or wear white clothes.

Now, there are signs that this is changing.

The past year has seen a surge in positive menstrual campaigns. Young Indian theatre artists, filmmakers, students and engineers have taken to the internet to debunk menstrual myths with YouTube videos like 'My first period?', campaigns like #PadsAgainstSexism and #RedAlert and startups like Menstrupedia, a comic book series on menstrual management aimed at schoolgirls, and website OoWomaniya, which has experts answer menstrual queries.

"Through positive online menstrual campaigns, youngsters are challenging issues relating to sexism, gender inequality and the discomfort shown to women and their bodies," says Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the Delhi-based All India Progressive Women's Association. "Grassroots NGOs have been working on the reproductive and menstrual health of rural women for years. What's interesting is to see how this new crop of campaigns has 'trickled up' to target urban India."

At the heart of such efforts is a desire to normalise a natural, biological process. For instance, Delhi-based film and theatre enthusiasts of entertainment company Old Delhi Films created YouTube videos such as 'What if guys had periods?' and 'My First Period' last November and this June respectively. They featured messages from urban youngsters, male and female. One woman said, of her first pads purchase, 'They wrapped it up so much it felt like I was walking around with drugs'. A young man noted, 'If guys had periods they'd finally be able to understand women better'.


Each of these videos has been viewed by more than 5 lakh people. "Many loved our videos. Others compared periods with piles and the pain of periods with getting kicked in the balls. Some accused us of being 'Feminazis'," says Aniket Jaiswal, 27, co-founder of Old Delhi Films. "We are gratified that we were able to start a conversation on a taboo topic on a public platform."

Old Delhi Films has earlier made videos on self-defence, patriarchy and moral policing. "This time we wanted to talk about this natural body process that every woman goes through and is still spoken of in hushed tones."

Another video, Period - The Musical, posted on Mumbai-based YouTube channel Rickshawali in May, shows its founder's tryst with a pharmacist while buying sanitary napkins, and a grandmother who refers to her as 'dirty' during her periods.

Released two months ago, this humourous video has been viewed more than 25,000 times. Comments range from 'This video can change mindsets... putting smiles on many girls' faces' to 'Stop overreacting!...'

From online to offline, the #PadsAgainst Sexism campaign was launched in March by Delhi's Jamia Milia students, who posted messages like 'Period blood is not impure, your thoughts are', scrawled - sometimes in red paint - on sanitary pads and stuck on trees and benches around their campus. The campaign soon spread to other colleges in the city.

New beginnings

The roots of these menstrual management and anti-taboo campaigns can be traced to 2012 and the Nirmal Bharat Yatra, which aimed at raising awareness about cleanliness and sanitation by uniting the government, NGOs like Wash United and the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) and members of civil society. The month-long yatra covered 2,000 km, from Maharashtra to Bihar.

"While developing the yatra, all stakeholders realised that menstrual hygiene management had traditionally been undermined by water and sanitation programmes and needed special attention," says Nirat Bhatnagar, senior project manager at Dalberg and former head of the social impact team at Quicksand Design Studio, an agency that was instrumental in conceptualising the programme.

During the yatra a common vocabulary emerged, with tweets and articles by activists, interns and fellowship students participating in the government campaign serving to set an agenda for online discussions on menstruation. "I hope that 10 years from now we will have raised a generation of girls who won't believe in any menstrual myths," says Gupta of Menstrupedia.

The mindsets are changing already. "I participated in the 'My First Period' video to make a point," says Delhi-based commerce student Achint Sodhi, 18. "It's frustrating to see that it's okay for guys to make jokes about erections, but women can't even talk about periods."

The shame guide

As part of its Touch the Pickle campaign, Whisper collaborated with Ipsos Research, a global market research company, in June 2014 and surveyed 1,105 women and 202 men across 10 Indian cities on their attitudes to menstruation.


of women usually hide the fact that they have their period, to avoid embarrassment


of male respondents become uncomfortable at the mere mention of the word 'periods'


of women feel discussing your period will get you labelled a 'bad, bold girl'


of women feel embarrassed when a sanitary napkin commercial is aired while their family is in the room


of women think it's more awkward to discuss period problems than talk about boyfriends with family

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