After spending years developing a simple machine to make inexpensive sanitary pads, Arunachalam Muruganantham has become the unlikely leader of a menstrual health revolution in rural India. Over sixteen years, Muruganantham’s machine has spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states and since most of his clients are NGOs and women’s self-help groups who produce and sell the pads directly in a “by the women, for the women, and to the women” model, the average machine also provides employment for ten women.
Muruganantham’s interest in menstrual health began in 1998 when, as a young, newly married man, he saw his wife, Shanthi, hiding the rags she used as menstrual cloths. Like most men in his village, he had no idea about the reality of menstruation and was horrified that cloths that “I would not even use… to clean my scooter” were his wife’s solution to menstrual sanitation. When he asked why she didn’t buy sanitary pads, she told him that the expense would prevent her from buying staples like milk for the family.
Muruganantham, who left school at age 14 to start working, decided to try making his own sanitary pads for less but the testing of his first prototype ran into a snag almost immediately: Muruganantham had no idea that periods were monthly. “I can’t wait a month for each feedback, it’ll take two decades!” he said, and sought volunteers among the women in his community. He discovered that less than 10% of the women in his area used sanitary pads, instead using rags, sawdust, leaves, or ash. Even if they did use cloths, they were too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, meaning that they never got disinfected — contributing to the approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India that are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.
Finding volunteers was nearly impossible: women were embarrassed, or afraid of myths about sanitary pads that say that women who use them will go blind or never marry. Muruganantham came up with an ingenious solution: “I became the man who wore a sanitary pad,” he says. He made an artificial uterus, filled it with goat’s blood, and wore it throughout the day. But his determination had severe consequences: his village concluded he was a pervert with a sexual disease, his mother left his household in shame and his wife left him. As he remarks in the documentary “Menstrual Man” about his experience, “So you see God’s sense of humour. I’d started the research for my wife and after 18 months she left me!”
After years of research, Muruganantham perfected his machine and now works with NGOs and women’s self-help groups to distribute it. Women can use it to make sanitary napkins for themselves, but he encourages them to make pads to sell as well to provide employment for women in poor communities. And, since 23% of girls drop out of school once they start menstruating, he also works with schools, teaching girls to make their own pads: “Why wait till they are women? Why not empower girls?”
As communities accepted his machine, opinions of his “crazy” behavior changed. Five and a half years after she left, Shanthi contacted him, and they are now living together again. She says it was hard living with the ostracization that came from his project, but now, she helps spread the word about sanitary napkins to other women. “Initially I used to be very shy when talking to people about it, but after all this time, people have started to open up. Now they come and talk to me, they ask questions and they also get sanitary napkins to try them.”
In 2009, Muruganantham was honored with a national Innovation Award in 2009 by then President of India, Pratibha Patil, beating out nearly 1,000 other entries. Now, he’s looking at expanding to other countries and believes that 106 countries could benefit from his invention.
Muruganantham is proud to have made such a difference: “from childhood I know no human being died because of poverty — everything happens because of ignorance… I have accumulated no money but I accumulate a lot of happiness.” His proudest moment? A year after he installed one of the machines in a village so poor that, for generations, no one had earned enough for their children to attend school. Then he received a call from one of the women selling sanitary pads who told him that, thanks to the income, her daughter was now able to go to school.
To read more about Muruganantham’s story, the BBC featured a recent profile on him at http://bbc.in/1i8tebG or watch his TED talk at http://bit.ly/1n594l6. You can also view his company’s website at http://newinventions.in/
To learn more about the 2013 documentary Menstrual Man about Muruganantham, visit http://www.menstrualman.com/
For resources to help girls prepare for and understand their periods - including several first period kits - visit our post on: “That Time of the Month: Teaching Your Mighty Girl about Her Menstrual Cycle” at www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=3281
To help your tween understand the changes she’s experiencing both physically and emotionally during puberty, check out the books recommended in our post on “Talking with Tweens and Teens About Their Bodies” at http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=2229
And, if you’re looking for ways to encourage your children to become the next engineering and technology innovators, visit A Mighty Girl’s STEM toy section athttp://www.amightygirl.com/toys/toys-games/science-math
Awesome, dude. Awesome. I mean, AWESOME.
WHAT AN EPIC BADASS!
This man is awesome!
I hope that’s his wife putting pads together in the back. His swag is on 5hunna just because he’s part of the gotdamn solution!
Whether you agree with Suey Park or not, the way this interview was handled was abominable and disgusting. This was set up from the very beginning to make her opinion look “stupid.”
I have to agree - using racist jokes, even in the name of so-called “satire” will not do anything to actually end racism. it just gives white people an excuse to laugh at POC’s expense, and feel like they’re not being assholes for it. look at chapelle’s show. People may say that Suey is overreacting, but honestly, as she points out, sometimes you HAVE to overreact because it’s the only way to be heard. In America especially, (white) people are terrified of making black jokes, but Asian jokes are still free reign. Do you think Colbert’s team would have written a similar joke about black people? Or even Latinos? Casual racism against Asians is still considered OK, and it’s NOT OK, and we can debate what “satire” is all we want, but we shouldn’t debate an Asian’s woman’s right to be angry or simply fed up after a lifetime of having to deal with this bullshit. White liberals are the worst.
Like the quote says, white people really think that racism is “a feeling,” they REALLY don’t get it is a system that we all play a part in whether we want to or not. Ambushing Suey like this was not productive, it was not a teachable moment. All they wanted to do was make her look like an unreasonable Angry Asian woman, pitting her against two white men who were completely unequipped intellectually to handle the conversation in a useful way. “As a white man, I have no right to share my opinion…” How fucking patronizing.
White men are so fucking butthurt when they are called out for being white men, when the fact that they benefit from living in a patriarchal, white-run society is acknowledged. How dare she call them out, right? How dare she point out that they could never even begin to understand where she comes from because they’ve never fucking had to? This makes my blood boil. When I first saw the joke in question, guess what? I didn’t find it offensive. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was so wrong. Like others, I thought to myself, “but it’s ~satire~~~ right?”
But guess what? I am not an Asian woman.
The experience of an Asian woman is beyond my realm of understanding. So what did I do? I read, and I learned, and I unlearned the racist and anti-Asian thinking that we are all susceptible to, whites and POC alike, when we live in a racist society. I may not understand fully, but if there’s one thing I’m not going to do, I’m not going to ridicule or diminish anyone’s right to feel angry, to turn that anger into a joke. I have some Asian-American friends who have rolled their eyes and called this ridiculous.
I also can’t judge them for not finding the tweet offensive, for agreeing with their white liberal friends that it was “satire.” But there is a larger discussion to be had about anti-Asian attitudes that people are going out of their way to step over in order to intellectually belittle Suey Park and I am NOT HERE FOR IT.
Frank and Sadie Doyle. Toast of the upper crust. Headliners on the society pages…
And oh yes, they see ghosts.
Lupita Nyong’o (via sonofafieldnegro)
this is so important. too many actors fail to thank the people they play on screen. They often think they are those people and that they have actually done something through acting a part. Lupita knows the importance of playing the role of Patsey, but she always pays tribute to this real historical person and all the Patseys who have suffered. Lupita reminds everyone that Patsey is very real. That Solomon Northrup’s story is very real. This history from this movie is real and we must not forget. Thank you, Lupita. You’re an angel.
literally tho deb u could be on one of those shows. (also i agree w/ neve, gr8 face)