Sex. Periods. Body odour: Satara-based ThatMate spurs conversations around taboos

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Are tampons safe? How do I tell my family I am gay? How do I put on a condom during sex? ThatMate understands all your questions are important and aims to address social issues and mental health through an online platform and workshops.

Let’s admit it, sex as a topic is still taboo with most Indians. Growing up, how often have you turned to the internet just because your parents found it awkward to discuss sex with you openly? In many households, it is not spoken of at all, despite how important it is to educate one’s child on safe sex practices.

How many of your teachers skipped the entire chapter on ‘human reproduction’ in school because they were embarrassed to talk about it? Or, worse, how many of you were forbidden to talk about periods with boys or loudly in public?

A good education may not necessarily translate into awareness because of the stigma and taboos that exist in Indian society. This is why awareness of social issues and mental health is important at different levels.

Here’s where ThatMate steps in. Founded by Madhavi Jadhav, it’s a platform that aims to reduce the myths associated with sexual and mental health through engaging tools such as comic books, cartoon characters, workshops, online forums, and counselling.

ThatMate - a social initiative
A ThatMate session in progress

Madhavi tells me that she’s always been a rebel at heart. Raised in a Hirakunj, a small village in Satara district, Maharashtra, it was not unusual to witness girls getting married once they started menstruating.

“I was working with Shell after completing my education, and during this time, I realised I wanted to work for people rather than a big money-making firm. I decided to quit my job and shift to Satara. I explored many places and realised that there was a dire need for education and awareness among children as well as adults. I reached out to some of my friends and with their help, conducted workshops and seminars for children between the ages of seven and 10 about “good touch-bad touch” and safety. The workshop received a wonderful response and this prompted me to start ThatMate,” she says.

ThatMate aims to bring topics that have been long-considered normal and commonplace in most Western societies.

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“One trait that I want to work on is my ability to convince parents, teachers, and other adults to allow me to engage their children on different subjects. We want to encourage dialogue to dispel misnomers, misunderstandings, and ignorant stereotypes that can, at best, cause isolation and further prejudice and, at worst, lead to abuse and even death. However, I do not want to use that fear as a tool to convince adults that our mission is important. I would like to convince them through logic and other means. Fear is not effective, so I need to be able to bring in a constructive, concise dialogue, with the ability to listen and absorb, reformat my tactics and understand how to engage my audience better,” adds Madhavi.

ThatMate uses a friendly, open, gender-neutral, culturally sensitive approach. It has collaborated with five schools in Satara and will engage with 500 schools in the Sangli district reaching out to approximately 2,00,000 students. It has reached over 13,000 youths through Sarahah (an anonymous social media app) and has conducted 24 Facebook live sessions.

Madhavi has presented ThatMate at platforms like Tedx and LeanIn India. It has also been incubated at Deshpande Foundation, UnLtd India and Atal Incubation Centre, Banasthali, a NITI Aayog initiative.

The startup is bootstrapped with the online platform following a “freemium” model.

Madhavi explains, “Certain services are open to people who have agreed to pay for them. Those that have the free tier will be given advertising to help subsist the costs. This is primarily true for the forum where ads will be offered along with certain videos and services.  Our workshops will be on a service model where we will ask for funds directly from the organisation, or through other organisations in the form of sponsors or donors.

Comic book sales are offered at tiered levels depending on the quality of the comics themselves and sponsored outreach. We have special pages for select advertising to reduce the overall cost of the comics to our demographic.”

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With ThatMate, children learn about various social issues.

The response to various programmes has been encouraging. Madhavi shares with us a few quotes from parents and teachers.

“I was abused by my neighbour when I was in the second standard. I didn’t know about it until I was a part of the Safe Unsafe touch workshop.” – Student

“I now understand the difference between gender and sex. Also, I used to get scared of transgender people before. After the workshop, I have realised that they are also a part of society and should be treated equally.” – Parent

Madhavi is happy about starting up in a small town. “The operational costs are lower and the acceptance rate is higher,” she points out.

ThatMate’s future plans include more workshops and partnerships with leading schools in Satara, Solapur, and Kolhapur.

“We will collaborate with NGOs like Tathapi, Stree Shakti Sansthan, Goonj and Enfold. Our immediate need is to raise funds to enable us to objectively achieve our goals. Our long-term goals include establishing a base of operations, hiring a technical team for developing applications, partnering with developers in the gaming and animation sectors, looking for partners in private and government areas, completing our comic book series and offering them in a variety of local languages, and growing our knowledge base with more subject matter experts. We want to reach out and change the lives of over one million children in the next five years, with an equivalent number of adults,” says Madhavi.

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Source: Yourstory

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