1. This is Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who is revolutionising feminine hygiene products for women in India.
A high school dropout from a poor family, Muruganantham is an unlikely hero for women in India.
2. This “revolution” came about after Muruganantham discovered his wife was using “nasty cloths” instead of sanitary napkins during her period.
He said the cloth was in such a bad state he “would not even use it to clean my scooter.” Apparently his wife didn’t buy sanitary napkins or pads because, as they cost so much, she wouldn’t be able afford household essentials for her family.
Upon his discovery, he went into town to buy his wife a sanitary napkin, and said it was quickly sold to him as though it was a banned item.
3. He realised that sanitary napkins were being sold at 40 times the price they should be sold at for what they weighed, and decided that he could make them cheaper himself.
He then made a cotton pad for his wife and asked for feedback. His wife then had to explain that periods are monthly, to which he responded: “I can’t wait a month for each feedback, it’ll take two decades!” So, he had to find volunteers.
4. In his search for volunteers, Muruganantham discovered that only 7% of women in India use sanitary napkins, and only 2% of women in rural areas use them.
The women like his wife who use cloths are so embarrassed by their periods, they don’t lay their cloths out in the sun to dry, which means they are never disinfected. This is a major reason of why 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.
According to the BBC, he also found that many women used “but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves, and even ash” to absorb their menstrual fluid.
5. Unfortunately because women are so unwilling to discuss their periods, he failed to find an adequate number of volunteers.
As an alternative, Muruganantham created a “uterus” by filling a football bladder with goat’s blood to test his product.
6. During his research, he would wash his bloodied clothes in public, and he soon became the talk of the town.
Because of the stigma around women’s periods, many concluded he “had a sexual disease” or simply was a “pervert.” It was even thought that he possessed “evil spirits.”
Even worse, his wife — who had inspired the entire project — left him: “So you see God’s sense of humour. I’d started the research for my wife and after 18 months she left me!”
7. He ended up having to leave his village, and after four and a half years, he successfully found a way to produce low-cost sanitary pads.
Muruganantham’s machines used to create the pads are simple to use so that they could also be maintained by rural women, like his mother. So, in addition to creating sanitary napkins, he is also creating jobs for local women.
8. Muruganantham’s machine was awarded a national innovation award by the president of India.
And he eventually got back together with his wife, who is now very involved in the product.
9. It took Muruganantham 18 months to build 250 machines, but his “low-cost sanitary pad movement” is gaining momentum, and the pads are available in 1,300 villages in 23 states.
The women who create the pads give them their own branding and name, with the overall message being that they are “by the women, for the women, and to the women”.
Muruganantham says he is against TV advertising for feminine hygiene products because they never actually address hygiene: “You always have a girl in white jeans, jumping over a wall. They never talk about hygiene.”