Wreetu’s Comic Book on Menstrual Health
In 2016, while already involved in conducting school-wide workshops on the topic, Sharmin Kabir began to think of ways in which adolescents could be taught about menstrual health in a friendly manner. "What would the children be left with once the workshop was over and Sharmin and her team had left?" she wondered.
So she began building her own resource. The end result? A resourceful and enjoyable guide that children can consult for everything from mood swings to getting their periods.
"I was inspired by Meena and the way it used cartoons to teach children crucial information. So I decided to develop our resources in a comic book format," says Kabir, founder of Wreetu, a platform that works to improve the experience of menstruating women.
The comic book centres on a group of cousins who go to their grandmother's house in their village during the summer holidays. The girls are excited to see their relatives, but it soon becomes apparent that one of them is entering puberty but isn't aware of it. Their aunt, who is a medical student, teaches them about their bodies, menstruation, and about growing up.
"We chose the rural setting because I think all of us can relate, even if a little bit, to the nature and surroundings of a village. I also based the kids in the story on my own nieces. The character of the aunt was based on my own sister," Kabir shares.
The fictional narrative works to warmly invite readers into the familiar setting of a family home, where older cousins pass on their wisdom and cousins growing up together bond over their shared experiences. It creates a comfortable environment for children to tackle otherwise uncomfortable topics.
"I always believe in including everyone in the conversation," Kabir shares. "Even when we conducted workshops in schools, we made sure to include the boys and if possible the parents too. So for the book, I asked the children in all the workshops what they wanted to see and what they needed to learn. And we simply developed that. So in a way, these kids created the books, I was just the medium."
The book starts by talking about physical and emotional changes during puberty, why and how menstruation happens, and how the female reproductive organ functions. It offers instructions on how to use sanitary napkins, exercises that one can do to relieve period pain, proper dietary choices for periods, and how one can keep track of their cycle, all in a way that speaks to fifth to eighth graders—the main target demographic for the book.
"I consulted with a gynaecologist to get all the medical facts right and showed it to more doctors to fact check," Kabir clarifies. Another concern was designing the content so as not to offend conservative families. "So we were extra cautious in the way we approached the topics and diagrams."
"Raising funds to print and distribute the books for free was a bigger challenge but EMK Center gave us a grant. The first and so far only edition was published in March 2019. We distributed it to 20 schools. Later, more schools contacted us and sourced the book for their students."
Most recently in October, 45 copies were distributed among adolescent girls in Nimok Pura village of Kishoreganj.
The glossy and colourful pages of the comic book look entertaining and inviting—it reads like any other children's book. Yet it passes on valuable information to an age demographic that desperately needs it. Copies of Wreetu Comic Boi can be ordered through Wreetu's Facebook page, for BDT 240.
Mrittika Anan Rahman is sub-editor, Shout, and a contributor to DS Books.