Sanitary Napkins is an item of luxury for women living in rural India. Only 2 percent of women in India use sanitary napkins! Not everyone has access to the same, given the fact that millions sustain with less than a 1.25 dollar per day (according to UNDP reports). It so difficult to make ends meet that a woman’s hygiene is pushed behind every other basic necessity.
Woman are still not allowed to openly speak about their menstrual cycles. Male members in the family shouldn’t be allowed to know that you are bleeding. It becomes a matter of great shame if anyone other than your husband knows about it. Some communities call for making a woman sleep alone and even on the ground unless she is done with her periods. Many shudder at the thought of being in close contact with their wives.
Arunachalam Muruganantham is popularly known as the “Menstrual Man” of India. A school dropout, he is the man who gave back to the society much more than he received. The fact that his wife had to use old dirty rags as an absorbent during her menses proved to be the sole driving force. On his confrontation, she stated that spending on expensive sanitary napkins would mean doing away with the weekly milk budget. He started experimenting with cotton pads initially, which his wife and later his sisters rejected. They refused to be his guinea pigs for experiment. What came as a further hindrance was the fact that he couldn’t test the effectiveness of his invention in a laboratory. He needed living women who were ready to give them back to him after usage.
On visiting a medical shop to buy pads for his wife, he realised that the owner packed it in a newspaper as if he were buying something illegal. He realized that the raw materials that went into making these pads cost only 0.002 dollars but multinational corporations were incurring huge profits by selling them 40 times higher the price. He started looking for female volunteers at the nearby medical college but everyone refused to be his subject of experiment. Left with no option he fit an artificial bladder filled with animal blood around his waist and spent the whole day doing his daily job, pumping the bladder at intervals to imitate the menstrual cycle. He admits that that experiment made him understand what pain women go through during that phase of the month. In his words at the TED Talks in Bangalore, “that makes me bow down to any woman in front of me with respect. The messy days, the lousy days, that wetness. My God, It’s unbelievable!”
He found out that the cost of the machines that used cellulose to make the pads were millions. He invented a low cost machine which required minimal training to operate. Currently, the founder of Jayaashree Industries, Muruganantham only sells these machines to Women Self- Help groups in rural India. He claims, you can make sanitary napkins at your dining hall with his invention. So far, there have been 630 installations in 23 states of India and in six countries other than India. The TIME Magazine placed him in the list of 100 Most Influential People In The World in 2014.
Not only has Muruganantham’s invention brought about a revolution in terms of making affordable sanitary pads being available to rural women, it has also empowered them in terms of employment. He has been an inspiration for many other start-ups who have also joined this movement to make sanitary napkins accessible.
A well known documentary, “Menstrual Man” filmed by Amit Virmani is truly an ode to this man.