Ok…. Don’t get weirded out by the title….it is not weird. It is one of the most male driven feminist stories I have heard of in recent history.
Arunachalam Muruganantham has been dubbed Menstruation Man. What started as a mission to help his wife turned into a movement in India.
Here is his story for those who don’t know;
In 1998 he was newly married and one day he saw his wife Shanthi hiding something from him. He was stunned to see it was rags she used when on her period. He hs been quoted in saying that he wouldn’t;t even use them to clean his scooter. He asked his wife why she wasn’t using sanitary pads. She explained to him if she bought pads she wouldn’t be able to buy milk or run the household. This would not do for Muruganantham so he went to town to buy her sanitary pads. He looked at the products in his hands and he wondered why something so light cost 40 times what they should sell at based on what the product was made from. He decided then and there he could make them for himself cheaper.
He created a sanitary pad from cotton and gave it to his wife demanding feedback immediately. She explained to him he would have to wait for some time, since her period came only monthly…. a fact he overlooked or never realized. He needed to find volunteers. It was when he looked he realized most women in surrounding villages rarely used pads fewer than 1 in 10. A survey in 2011 commissioned by the Indian government found that a mere 12% of women across India actually used sanitary pads because they could not afford them. When Muruganantham found that it was not only rags women in these villages were using buy things like, sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash, and those who used rags were often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun so they didn’t get disinfected. (Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene). Finding women to test his products was not easy even his sisters refused. He ended up texting the products himself. He created a “uterus” from football bladder by punching holes in it and filling it with goat’s blood. He knew a butcher that would ring when he was going to kill a goat and Muruganantham would collect the blood mix in an additive he got from another friend to prevent the blood from clotting too quickly. He wore this bladder under his clothes constantly pumping blood out to test his pads. He would wash his bloody clothes at a public well and the village concluded he had a sexual disease. People thought he had become a pervert, he was avoided in the street and his wife left him (however 5 years later she called him and they are together today and have a child). The villagers became convinced he was possessed by evil spirits and were going to chain him upside down to a tree to be healed, however he avoided this by agreeing to leave the village.
Even after ALL this, the man did not give up, he was determined. It took four years and a lot of set backs but in the end four and a half years after he started he succeeded in creating a low-cost method for the production of sanitary towels. He ended up having to create his own machine to break down materials needed and turn it to sanitary pads.
His goal was to create a user-friendly technology. The process could be learnt in about an hour. The machines are simple and can be maintained by women. He not only wanted to create a cheap sanitary napkins but jobs for women.
What started as a way to bring sanitary pads to his wife, has turned into a business where he is giving women in 3rd world counties jobs and clean period products at a very low-cost. He is expanding into countries all over the globe, Kenya, Nigeria, Philippines and Bangladesh to name a few.
He and his wife are a tight unit. She helps him, When a girl reaches puberty in their village there is a ceremony. Shanthi always brings them a sanitary pad as a gift and teaches them how to use it. She was embarrassed at first but now is ok.
I stumbled upon this story when looking into period poverty. This man is inspiring… He literally lost his family and home for a cause that was never his but he waged on…. He has changed the lives of countless women in India, he has won an award and had a movie about himself and there he is in India, still installing his machines and teaching the women how to use them. Amazing.
It is people like this; that inspires me to do better, be better. Thank you Arunachalam Murganantham for being one of the great ones. I tip my hat to you and your cause.