Some called Arunachalam Muruganantham a pervert, some called him psychotic, and others believed he was dabbling in black magic. But I think of him as a truly evolved man, a real feminist, someone who goes that extra mile to help the women in his life! In essence, it takes a real man to wear a maxi pad!
Here are some interesting statistics about the accessibility of sanitary napkins in India:
- 88% of women living in India use dried lieaves, ashes, dirty rags and newspaper because they cannot afford sanitary napkins.
- Indian adolescent girls (ages 12-18) in rural areas either miss school for 5 days every month and 23% drop out all together to avoid shame and embarrassment brought on by menstruation and the lack of sanitary products.
- Only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins.
- The biggest barrier to using sanitary napkins? 70% of women’s families can’t afford to buy them.
- Incidents of Reproductive Tract Infections is 70% more common amongst women who cannot access sanitary napkins.
Now, most of you may be wondering, how and why would a man get so involved with this issue? It began when Muruganantham questioned his wife as to why she was trying to hide a rag from him. She explained that buying sanitary napkins were too expensive and would mean that they would not be able to buy milk for the family.
Well, being the thoughtful husband that he is, Muruganantham thought to himself, “Why couldn’t I create a low cost napkin for my wife?”
Thus, the quest for the affordable maxi pad began....
At first, he asked his wife and his sister to test his hand-made napkins. Unfortunately, they shot him down. He even attempted to get female medical students to wear them and then fill out feedback sheets. However, no one agreed, as they did not want to talk about such a taboo topic with a man. Then, to make matters worse, his wife assumed he was only working on this project to meet young women. So, she left him. His research was moving in an unsuccessful direction, as he attempted to wear panties for a week with a do-it-yourself uterus filled with goat’s blood to test the effectiveness of his pads. That’s when his mom left him.
However, he didn’t stop. Muruganantham’s, a high school drop out, taught himself English and pretended to be a millionaire to get U.S. manufacturers to send him samples of raw materials, including cellulose derived from the bark of a tree. (You have to appreciate his level of commitment!)
Once he figured out how to make them, he realized that the machine needed to take the pine wood fiber into cellulose cost over $500,000 U.S. dollars. Because of this, big giants like Procter & Gamble as well as Johnson & Johnson have cornered the industry in India.
But, where there is a will, there is Muruganatham! After about four years, he was able to create a simpler machine. It was powered by foot pedals and electricity. The machine de-fibers the cellulose, molds it into napkin form, encloses it with non-woven fabrics and then sterilizes it with UV light. He is making 1,000 a day, and sells them for $0.25 for a pack of eight.
Wow. I am completely impressed, completely inspired!
He has won numerous awards, as well as getting his wife back. But, he doesn’t sell his product commercially.
His vision spans the country of India, and includes women lifting themselves out of poverty. He is a true inspiration to us all.
He considers his product a service. His company, Jayaashree Industries helps rural women purchase one of his machines for $2500 through self-help groups, NGOs and government loans.
“My vision is to make India a 100% napkin-using country. We can create 1 million employment opportunities for rural women and expand the model to other developing nations.”
This is seriously so cool. Not only does the product have the potential to help all women in India, but rural women can be taught to run a machine in three hours. Each machine employs four women, which helps rural Indian women become financially independent through running a machine.
However, it won’t be an easy path. Many rural women are unaware as to how to use napkins, worry about spending even a small amount of money to purchase them, and don’t take their health into consideration. Sumanthi Dharmalingam, a housewife who runs a napkin-making business, has cautioined them about the health-related consequences due to a lack of sanitary napkins. But a common reply is, “When I caution them that they might have to have their uterus removed because of reproductive infections, they just say, ‘So what? How long are we going to live anyway?’”
But over time, women may become better educated about their health and well being. Here in America, it is so easy to take simple things like sanitary napkins for granted, but we are so lucky to have such things at our disposal. I never had to quit school because I hit puberty and with men like Muruganantham in the world, hopefully more girls won’t either!
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