No Shame in The Period Game

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 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 in the audience may relate to the shame I felt, is the stigma around menstrual health an issue worth a ten min tedx talk?

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, 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 my absolute favorite menstrual health!

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.

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 on social media, 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 will be developed for low-end Android phones that have high penetration rates among secondary school girls in Kenya.

With our partners Femme International the game will be launched in three urban slums around Nairobi to educate and empower 3500 girls enrolled in secondary schools. This context-vigilant version will be having customized content, art and language suited for the East African countries. We hope that by taking MoHiM to countries like Kenya, we can educate, engage and empower girls who face the worst forms of oppression.

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 here because I decided that I wanted to be a part of the first push. And as I stand here today, seeing the menstrual stigma begin to break and the shame begin to fade, I make a promise to remain committed to this bloody cause till the very last domino falls, the question is “Are you game?”

This is a transcript of a talk given by Mariam Adil at TedxRHS.


GRID – An Overview

GRID brochure 2017 – click for PDF version     Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 8.38.59 AM


A Quick Look

  • Our Mission: Leveraging the power of digital games to inspire behavioral change. At GRID, we aim to make games that can educate, engage and empower people to make better decisions about their lives, their health, their money and their future, all while having a good time.
  • Our Story: Founded by Mariam Adil in 2013 GRID is a social initiative powered by a global team of young professionals who share a passion for gaming for development.
  • Our Achievements: GRID was featured as an “exemplary approach” on stage at CGIU 2015 at a session moderated by President Clinton. Mariam has presented GRID at numerous occasions, including two Tedx talks and the World Bank OLC Launch. Mariam won the GWU Best Social Venture Prize, SID Andrew Rice Award, GWU Knapp Fellowship and UN PeaceApp prize for GRID. GRID has been featured by 50+ media outlets in the past three years.

My Backpack of Mentors

When I began my journey of social entrepreneurship two years ago, I had an exciting idea, passion for change and a skill set I could leverage to take things forward. While these were all important, my biggest asset on this journey has been my backpack of mentors. It is the backpack that every entrepreneur needs, to not only survive, but succeed in the remarkable journey of entrepreneurship. Mentors come in different shapes and sizes (not all mentors have to be pepper haired and deep-voiced), guiding and encouraging you at the many crossroads, road blocks and bumps you will encounter. 
In my opinion, the backpack of mentors usually has one, all or a combination of different types of mentors. At the expense of getting carried away with the backpack metaphor, I present to you four types of mentors: 
The Compass:  you’d be lost without them. These are the mentors that have years of experience under their belt, experience that gives them a unique perspective towards decisions that seem mind boggling to you. When you find yourself facing complex decisions and tough trade-offs, a skype call with these mentors can bring truckloads of clarity. 
The Gatorade: This is your power booster, the mentor who fuels that fire in your belly.  As an entrepreneur, the temptation to call it quits may lurk in the dark corners of disappointment and it is at times like these that you need someone to help you recharge, re-strategize and prepare for re-attack. In most cases, these Gatorades have fought their own share of disappointments making their commitment contagious and their struggle inspiring. 
The First Aid Kit:  These are the seldom used but intensely useful kind. You reach out to them when things are about to fall apart, think funding crises or scale-up challenges. They bring influence, power and networks that can prove essential in your hour of need. These are the ones you can depend on to pull you out of tight spots and buck you up for the journey ahead.
The iPod: What is a journey without music in it. These mentors add life to your days. They are the source of spark in the mundane everydays and the spirit boosters during the inevitable downs and lows. They are you partners in the dance of the life of a startup. They make every second of running a startup fun and infuse their infectious excitement and passion into the venture. 
This is the survival mentor kit that is essential for every startup and GRID is extremely fortunate to have a host of mentors that fulfill one or more of these roles. Sometimes a mentor can be both a compass and an iPod, sometimes it can be just one, but whichever position they hold it is essential for a budding venture.  
Here is to all the GRID Mentors, you make for a great backpack: 
Shwetlena Sabarwal, World Bank
Fawzia Naqvi, Soros Economic Development Fund
Mike Trucano, World Bank

Dr. Sean Roberts, Elliott School, GWU

Jehan Ara, P@sha
Obaid Ullah Khwaja, Flikkable
Hamad Khawaja, Google
Every GRID success is a testament to your support and guidance! GRID could not have asked for a better team of champions! pan1_0

The Who, What and Why of GRID

This is for all those who have loved, supported and endorsed GRID but don’t fulllyyyyy understand what GRID is. I present to you GRID 101.

Who is Mariam?

A passionate development practitioner, an international development student and an aspiring social entrepreneur, Mariam Adil believes in the power of young people, especially women, and has a vision of a world where empowered girls are not a minority but a norm. Her favourite quote this year is “Why can’t “run like a girl” mean win the race?”

In addition to her roles and responsibilities as an Economist (Consultant) with the Africa Education Global Practice at the World Bank,​ Mariam is working towards mainstreaming games as development solutions through her initiative GRID – Gaming Revolution for International Development. Mariam is committed to making the world a better place, one game at a time. ​

What is GRID?

GRID, The Gaming Revolution for International Development, gamifies the practice of International Development by creating low-cost digital games that simulate the challenges in designing, implementing and monitoring development projects. We aim to revolutionize the practice of international development by introducing video games as development solutions. These solutions range from capacity building tools for development workers to awareness building tools for project beneficiaries.

Imagine a world where policy-makers can simulate the impact of providing textbooks versus training teachers in public schools in Ghana or teenagers in Malawi can play a simple quiz game on their phones that raises AIDs awareness or young adults in India can be inspired for a career in hoteling by an interactive game on hotel management. With a push towards innovative use of technology in international development, and the recognition of the effectiveness of games as social impact tools, the stage is set for games to revolutionize the practice of international development.

GRID Games:

  • Randomania: Allows development practitioners to think about the challenges of evaluating projects and designing randomized control trials. The game takes the player through the different scenarios they can face in the field and walks them through a decision tree based on the actions of the player.
  • StereoWiped: Inspired by the design of mahjong tiles, it challenges the player to match portions of a stereotype such as “ I am a girl” and “I like pink” and then breaks them using a statistic such as 2 out of 3 girls around you like blue more than pink. So you keep having fun, but you raise awareness about stereotypes in the process.
  • Pipeline:
    • Games for creating behavior change around the issue of open defecation;
    • Game for encouraging Science and Math Education in Gambia;
    • Games for changing parental perceptions on Early Childhood Development.


Mariam’s Achievements related to GRID:

  • Presented GRID on stage at Clinton Global Initiative University at a session moderated by President Clinton
  • Awarded “Best Social Venture” prize at GW Business Plan Competition
  • Awarded The GWU Knapp Fellowship for Entrepreneurial Service-Learning
  • Recipient of the Elliott School’s Wilbur J. Carr Prize
  • Received “Honorable Mention” award at UN PeaceApp Competition
  • GRID has been featured in Washington Post, WB Today, GW Today, Global Voices and VentureBeat.

Why Games?

  • Games can be used to promote social change: Games can help raise awareness, bring social issues to the forefront and provide a fun opportunity for introspection as well as public action.
    • Behavioral Change: “Tell me, & I will forget, Show me, & I may remember, Involve me, & I will understand” Confucius. Games offer a platform to engage and involve in the process of building awareness. Games can offer an interactive medium for information dissemination that moves away from brochures and pamphlets. Policy makers can use games to build awareness around projects such as health interventions and trigger behavioral shifts.
    • Promote dialogue: Dialogue around serious social issues such as racial stereotyping, birth control or women empowerment can be tricky to initiate and sustain. These issues are so deeply inscribed in our social constructs that few people question them and even the ones that do, find it difficult to engage in a dialogue around them. Video games can target these social constructs and prompt individuals to challenge them in a fun way. Games can bring the dialogue to the comfort zone of people, specifically youth, and leverage the convenience of technology and interactive nature of video games to promote social change.
  • Games are a great tool for capacity building: Video games can help development practitioners and students better understand the challenges of designing, implementing and evaluating development projects by offering a complementary learning method to more formal training.
    • Simulate decision making: The interactive nature of video games can prepare development practitioners for the complex decision-making and behavioral challenges that they face on a regular basis. Games are able to simulate several layers of decisions (or nodes of a decision tree) in an engaging manner, a complexity books or presentations cannot fully address.
    • Build perspective around trade-offs in utilization of public resources: Games offer a safe environment to simulate the effects of policies and understand the trade-offs involved in the decision-making process.
    • Visualize the counterfactual: We often hear that policy makers cannot attribute the impact of their projects to their intervention unless they are able to observe what would have happened in the absence of an intervention (counterfactual). Since the counterfactual is unobserved, advanced econometric techniques are used to estimate the counterfactual. Imagine if policy makers could now also visualize this counterfactual by simply “undo-ing” a policy in a simulation. This allows development practitioners to compare and contrast different policy interventions through video games. For example a game that simulates the education sector in Nigeria, can provide a policy maker with a sense of the opportunities and challenges of investing $10 million in teacher training versus curriculum reform.

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