This article has been sponsored by Whisper.
In India, a woman’s monthly cycle of menstruation is shrouded in shame, discrimination, and lack of awareness. Right from being treated as “untouchables” to dropping out of school, being forced into early marriages, and more, the taboo around menstruation has adversely impacted lakhs of women for centuries. This is why even in a country with over 355 million menstruators, only 36 per cent use the basic essential of menstrual hygiene — a sanitary napkin.
But a lack of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), fueled by a lack of education, is one of the primary reasons why women in several parts of India still resort to harmful menstrual practices like using dirty rags, ash, mud, leaves and soil to manage their monthly flow.
It is for this reason that we see many girls staying home from school during that time of the month.
Addressing this problem, Whisper, a leading menstrual hygiene brand, has launched the #KeepGirlsInSchool campaign and has been working toward building awareness of girls dropping out of school post-puberty.
“In previous versions of this campaign, spread through the past two years, we have seen that 1 in 5 girls drop out of school after they get their period. Whisper® believes that while awareness and acceptance of hygienic practices can play a big role in achieving 100% menstrual hygiene, one challenge was the ‘missing chapter’ in India’s school syllabus — menstrual hygiene and period education. This could empower girls to know more about menstruation and encourage them to not look at their period as ‘taboo’, thus helping girls be unstoppable even during their period became our mission,” says Akhil Meshram, Senior Director, Category Leader, Whisper®, Indian Subcontinent at Procter & Gamble.
Over the years, Whisper’s mission to eliminate taboos and myths around menstruation has faced a number of challenges. The first brand to show sanitary napkins on television in India, and use the word ‘periods’ in advertising, Whisper has come a long way in breaking taboos and stereotypes.
“When Whisper wanted to advertise on prime time, TV channels thought a sanitary pad was an inappropriate product to advertise on a prime-time slot. We got special permission from the authorities and became the very first sanitary pad brand to advertise on prime time on Indian TV in the early 90s. Back in 2014, our widely acclaimed campaign #TouchThePickle was one of the first campaigns where any brand or institution in India, took on the taboos surrounding periods at a mass scale. The campaign not only sparked conversations on period taboos but also drove acceptance of this conversation among the older generation, which is supposedly the most immersed in these deep-rooted traditions and taboos. We continued to do this through path-breaking campaigns like #SitImproper and #MeriLifeMereRules, where we encourage consumers to break period taboos and share their personal anecdotes,” adds Akhil.
While using media and advertising to alter public perception around periods is a big step, on a grassroots level, Whisper came to recognise a larger challenge — of the ‘missing chapter’ on period — that was fueling the lack of awareness around menstrual hygiene. For too long, this has negatively impacted young girls, pushing many to even drop out of school.
Growing up in environments that have a general sense of secrecy and shame around menstruation, young women are often pulled into a vicious cycle of misinformation and lack of credible knowledge. Highlighting this, a UNICEF study states that 71 per cent of adolescent girls in India remain unaware of menstruation until they get their first period. And when they do so, many drop out of school.
In its third edition of #KeepGirlsInSchool, Whisper is trying to break this chain and stop all of these 1 in 5 girls from dropping out of school by extending period education. Aware of the fact that missed school equals missed opportunity, they are also working to help at least 10 million girls who lost access to education during the pandemic to return to the education system through its on-ground awareness and period education programmes, which they introduced in 1995.
Since then, the brand has come a long way by creating positive impact along the way. So far, they have educated more than 5.4 crore girls on menstrual hygiene and provided free menstrual products and have pledged to reach an additional 71 lakh by the end of this year. “We understand the power of a holistic approach, which is why we are working in the grassroots through impactful wall paintings across regions to bring out the message of the Missing Chapter. These paintings, designed to look like the red paper in the film, will help understand the nuances of menstrual health hygiene for young girls. In addition to this, in the month of March, we were also giving consumers a chance to contribute through our campaign message — “Buy 1 Pack and Help Keep 1 Girl in School”. Also, there was a limited run of Whisper® packs whose cover, featuring our brand ambassador Bhumi Pednekar, can be passed on to young girls to help them understand what periods are and how to use a pad,” adds Akhil.
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