In 2011, a survey by AC Nielsen revealed that only 12% of women across India used sanitary pads. Just to put that into context, there are roughly 600 million women living in India. This equates to only 1 in 8 women using sanitary pads. So what were the other 7 women using? This was a question Arunachalam Muruganantham wanted to find the answer to. His search for an answer led to him developing a machine that was able to make cheap sanitary pads, revolutionising menstrual health for rural women in developing countries around the world.
Muruganantham began his search after realising that his wife was using rags during menstruation. Confused as to why she was doing this, he soon realised that sanitary pads had a mark-up of 40 times from what they cost to make. He found that women weren’t only using old rags but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India, such as bacterial vaginosis and dyspareunia are caused by poor menstrual hygiene. It was also having a negative effect on maternal mortality.
Muruganantham then began a journey to try and make a change. However, it was by no means easy. Muruganantham had to leave his village after locals felt he was possessed by an evil spirit, he lost friends who thought he was a “pervert” and his wife left him after they were getting a bad name. Just to make matters worse, his mother decided to leave home and he hardly had enough money to eat properly. This was all due to him carrying out rather unusual market research, such a wearing a “uterus” consisting of a football bladder filled with goat’s blood in his trousers and washing bloodied clothes at a public well. Despite all this Muruganantham carried on and had a clear vision of what he was doing.
Since that day, Muruganantham has installed machines in 1,300 villages in 23 states across India. Machines are operated by women who go on to sell the sanitary pads directly to consumers, earning money to support their family. Women are able to choose their own brand name for their range of sanitary pads. This promotes the belief that these products are “by the women, for the women, and to the women.” Muruganantham is also working with schools. 23% of girls drop out of education once they start menstruating and he hopes to empower girls by allowing them to make their own pads whilst they are still at school.
Muruganantham is aiming to create 10 million jobs for poor women worldwide by expanding to 106 countries, including, Kenya, Nigeria, the Philippines and Bangladesh. This is a great example of making a change to empower women but also believing in your ideas and not giving up. Just to give the post an even happier ending, Muruganantham’s wife and mother eventually came round to his idea and they now live happily in a modest apartment! If you would like to find out more about the Indian sanitary pad revolutionary, please visit: http://www.menstrualman.com
Here is one man making the difference to millions of women.
By Chiraag Thakrar
A medical student from the University of Leeds, interested in business and social enterprise. Inspired to see how Muruganantham set up a social enterprise that had a focus on women empowerment.