Leo Burnett India has created a series of murals in remote Indian locations that aim to help educate girls about puberty and periods.
The campaign, The Missing Chapter, was created with sanitary product brand Whisper (known as Always in the UK) as part of its Keep Girls in School initiative, which looks to change the fact that one in five girls (around 23 million) in India currently drop out of school at the onset of puberty.
The campaign name refers to the gap in the curriculum around learning about and discussing periods and puberty. “Whisper has imparted period education to more than 40 million schoolgirls, but there’s a long way to go,” says Leo Burnett. In India, more than 70% girls aren’t aware that menstruation occurs until they get their first period, “and the information they receive is sometimes coupled with stigma and cultural taboos … no one in society, not even mothers, talk about it,” the agency adds.
There has never been a chapter printed on the subject in any public school textbook, so The Missing Chapter aims to “make a measurable impact and bring about a change at micro level” by taking the absent information directly to those girls who don’t have access to education around menstruation. “Thus evolved the idea of using one of India’s oldest communication forms — ‘wall-art’ — to spread period education by taking this chapter into corners and walls of India’s smallest towns,” says Leo Burnett.
Murals were commissioned by 28 local artists, who each created a piece of art in their region’s distinct illustration style, script and language, and these are found on school and village walls in states including Kerala, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu. Some of the styles used in the campaign can be traced back to the early 12th century, such as the Pattachitra Paintings – traditional, cloth-based scroll paintings mostly found in the eastern Indian states of Odisha, West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh.
The local artisans’ hand-drawn paintings feature slogans and copy that aim to “bust period myths” and show a simple three-step guide to using a sanitary pad, aiming to help people have more open and non-stigmatised conversations around menstruation.
Traditional Indian wall art felt like the perfect fit for the project with its history of storytelling and the way it could easily draw attention to the ‘missing chapter’ in a way that seamlessly integrates into specific local surroundings.
One of the main challenges for Leo Burnett was fighting the stigma around periods in actually orchestrating the project: it faced last minute cancellations in some cases once vendors realised what the paintings were about.
Leo Burnett India has worked with Whisper for several years, creating the Keep Girls in School campaign in 2019 and working with the brand on various initiatives to gather support from Whisper consumers, as well as from the government, education institutions, and not-for-profit organisations.