1 in 5 Indian girls drop out of school due to menstruation.
300 million women in India are without access to safe menstrual hygiene products.
Arunachalam Muruganantham wanted to create the perfect menstrual pad for his wife so he decided to go ahead and try and do just that. What he ended up building was a mini maxi empire.
In 1998, Muruga, as he’s familiarly known, noticed his wife Shanti was using old rags for her period, which isn’t uncommon practice in rural or low-income areas. She’d usually hide this from him each month (also not uncommon), but when rags collect with blood and tissue they start to achieve a certain aroma (pad users, you likely know what we mean) which led to Muruga’s inquiry and subsequent mission. Without the funds to buy his wife sanitary menstrual pads, Muruga set out to develop his own.
It took him years to figure it out but after several trials, even wearing the pads himself, and various errors including bad feedback, or no feedback because women were too shy to give it to him, he finally built a machine that could turn out quality, low-cost, menstruator-approved sanitary pads. Menstruation was such a major cultural taboo in India (and still is, though we’re seeing that begin to change) that at a certain point during his research his wife left him amid mounting community embarrassment. (Neighbors had called him a pervert. The two eventually reconnected a few years later.)
The pads caught on so well with women and girls that Muruga has not only sold the physical products, he’s sold 1,300 of his custom machines to 27 Indian states expanding to 877 brands.
Corporations have inquired, but so far Muruga has made the machines available only to women’s groups. He’s recently begun to export the machines to developing countries creating more jobs for women in his homeland and beyond.
His efforts have earned him the title of “Menstruation Man” and the honor of being one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2014.
It may seem odd for a man to get recognition for igniting a menstrual revolution, in a time when menstrual stigmas are still strong and men are often seen perpetuating them, but if we’re going to make significant progress we’ve got to have support and innovation from all.
Here’s more about Muruga’s story via Al Jazeera.
And here’s a clip about how easy it is to manufacture the pads from Amy Peake who was bringing the machines to Syrian refugee camps in Jordan in 2014.