Here’s a memory from when I was 16. It was a long time ago but it’s one of those vivid memories that sets camp in your head and you remember every little detail…. I was taking a math exam in my home country in Pakistan and about three questions into it, I felt a sinking feeling...a cramp in my stomach. I was crushing the exam so I knew it couldn't be nerves.
My period had just started, I was not prepared and I was in a room with mostly men, teachers and students...math wasn’t a very female-friendly subject back then! I remember having a feeling of paralysis slowly creep over me, I sat on my chair staring at what was supposed to be a kick-ass exam, thinking what my next move would be. The idea of walking up to my teacher, explaining the situation to him, requesting a pad from the supplies cabinet, excusing myself for a few minutes and returning to my seat as if nothing ever happened was so daunting to me, that instead, I simply handed in my half-filled exam and ran out of the hall without a second look.
When I look back at that day, I feel silly about my fear, my sense of embarrassment and my paralysis from shame. But the 16-year-old girl that sat in the hall that day would rather fail an exam than admit to her peers that she was on her period. To me my period was something evil, so evil that I could not even say its name, almost like the Dark Lord from Harry Potter! She Who Must Not Be Named!
Now while some of you may relate to the shame I felt, is the stigma around menstrual health an issue worth a post?
What if I told you that in India around 23% of girls drop out of school after they started menstruating?
What if I told you that 48% of girls in Iran believe that menstruation is a disease?
What if I told you that most homeless women in the US don’t have access to basic feminine hygiene supplies?
What if I told you that last month, this same menstrual shame was responsible for the death of a 15-year-old girl in Nepal. Roshani Tiruwa, like most girls in rural Nepal, was forced to sleep outside her home in a menstrual hut because she was on her period. In these huts girls face the threat of attacks from wild animals or as in Roshani’s case, carbon monoxide poisoning from the fires that are lit to warm the poorly ventilated sheds.
The shame and stigma around menstruation exists all around us and it manifests oppression of a kind that few of us pay attention to.
This oppression will continue if the stigma lives in the social constructs of our society. To break the stigma around us there is a need to educate and raise awareness, engage and trigger dialogue and inspire and change behaviors so that we not only recognize the problem but also move towards finding a solution for it.
But how do you educate, engage and inspire a large group of people to create social change that is both impactful and long lasting? Being the Founder of GRID - Gaming Revolution for International Development & Gaming Revolution for Inspiring Development, I do so by making games.
Under GRID, we design games that address knowledge gaps and raise awareness to inspire behavioral change. We believe that because of their interactive, iterative and inspiring nature, games appeal to the human psychology in a way most other communication tools don’t and their impact on our brains far transcends the boundaries of the virtual world. We have designed games to fight stereotypes, to make math learning fun, to educate policy makers on randomized control trials and are now launching four new games, on financial literacy, open defecation, climate change and youth employment!
But my absolute favorite has been our period game, MoHiM. With this game, we are using the power of digital games to break the stigma around menstrual health.
MoHiM is a mobile game about periods. The word itself means “an effort” in Urdu and it spells out the acronym for Menstrual Health Management. It’s a simple mobile game, but with a twist. We believe:
Gone are the days of crushing candies;
It’s time to catch those pads with undies!
The player is challenged to maneuver a pair of undies to catch pads, while avoiding objects that should not be used to control menstrual flow, such as newspapers, leaves and rags.
Based on the number of pads caught, the game rewards the player with myth-busting keys that are used to break common menstrual myths such as “you cannot bathe during your period” or “PMS is not real”.
MoHiM makes periods un-evil, not the villain but the good guy, something that can be fun to learn and talk about! Because there is no shame in the period game!
Since MoHiM’s launch on the App Store many pads were caught with undies, several menstrual myths busted, many conversations started around periods, more than 30 news articles were written about it, partnerships were created with NGOs who are working on women’s health and most importantly, many many people, friends, family and strangers, became champions of change to support this bloody cause. We’ve had people talking about periods, learning about periods and laughing about periods. Within the US, we are partnering with Breaking The Cycle to introduce MoHiM to young girls in Washington DC to raise awareness around menstrual health and trigger a dialogue around the stigma.
And don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our fair share of backlash and criticism, but it was heartening to see that every time there was one voice claiming the game was worthless and vulgar, there were five others calling it valuable, necessary and fun. The dialogue that MoHiM started was the very purpose of it’s creation, we believe you can’t solve a problem without talking about it.
For me it was truly heartening to see men step up to break the stigma. We launched our Brohim campaign for the bros who believe in MoHiM, and saw some impressive bros ride the tide of change. From those who took the time to listen and acknowledge the magnitude of the issue to those spread the word on facebook calling it “a dope game”, we received support from bros of all ages, ethnicities and cultures. Some even dabbed for periods! And why not, after all there is a “men” in menstruation.
Having created that first ripple, we are now taking MoHiM to the bottom billion, people who live in the world’s poorest countries. Given that there are smartphones as low as $20 in areas where even toilets are a luxury, we have a window of opportunity, to reach the poor through their phones and use simple mobile games as tools for behavior change.
The next version of MoHiM has been developed for low-end Android phones that have high penetration rates among youth in developing countries. This context-vigilant version will be having customized content, art and language suited for host countries. We hope that by taking MoHiM to the bottom billion, we can educate, engage and empower girls who face the worst forms of oppression.
MoHiM is currently being integrated into UNICEF Pakistan’s activities to promote positive hygiene practices around MHM. The UNICEF team held focus groups in Sindh province in December 2017 as part of the Be Bold Be Free campaign where MoHiM was leveraged as a way to educate, engage and empower girls enrolled in primary schools. The Be Bold Be Free campaign seeks to create platforms where adolescent girls can share and receive information about menstrual hygieneand MoHiM has been embedded fully in campaign activities.
When I decided to make MoHiM, I wanted to raise my voice for my 16-year-old self who lived in shadow of the menstrual stigma, for Roshani who died in a menstrual hut and for all the women around the world who are made to feel ashamed of their period.
I hope to start the conversation on periods and create a domino effect that can educate, engage and inspire people all around the world. The domino effect can only begin when the first domino falls. That initial nudge is hard, it takes work, and some would even say it can’t be done.
But I’m writing this post because I decided that I wanted to be a part of the first push and I can already feel the menstrual stigma begin to break and the shame begin to fade. Today, I make a promise to remain committed to this bloody cause till the very last domino falls, the question is “Are you game?”
Mariam Adil is an Outstanding Alum of CGI University. Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) is a network of student leaders who have made Commitments to Action to address today's most pressing challenges.
Mariam Adil is an Education specialist at the World Bank and the Founder of the social venture GRID – Gaming Revolution for International Development and Gaming Revolution for Inspiring Development. She has seven years of human development experience across Africa and South Asia. Mariam holds two [...]