By Anusha Reddy
Menstruation is one of the most common aspect of being a woman. It is seen with many perspectives, some as anything normal and some as a taboo. A menstruating woman being considered impure is not new in the society. In some households even now, menstruating women are not allowed to enter the kitchen, cook food and are a given a separate place in the house for the menstruating time.
One in five girls drop out of school when they start menstruating, and more than 70% women do not have access to sanitary napkins. In a country where most of the people cannot afford safe menstrual hygiene, one man began a quest to create a perfect sanitary napkin
It began in 1998 when Arunachalam Muruganantham, the son of a handloom weaver in South India, realized that his wife was using old rags during menstruation because she couldn’t afford sanitary pads. He decided to produce sanitary napkins for her for which he used a roll of cotton and cut it into pieces, the same size as the pads, then wrapped a thin layer of cotton around it. He presented it to his wife to test it and the feedback given to him was that it was useless, and she would prefer using rags.
Muruga started experimenting with different material, but had to face a problem: his wife could test the types only once a month. He was in need of volunteers and approached medical students of a university near his village. Some of them tested his product but were too shy to reveal the details. Left with no alternative, he decided to test the pad himself. He created a menstrual cycle by building a uterus using a rubber bladder, filled it with animal blood and fixed it to his hips. A tube led from the artificial uterus to the sanitary pads in his underpants. By pressing the bladder, he stimulated the flow.
He began to smell foul because of which he was tagged a ‘pervert’ and was also left by his wife. In-spite of all the odds, he continued with his experiments. During his research, he realized that only 20- 30% women had access to hygienic menstrual conditions; it was no longer only about helping his wife. He was on a mission to produce sanitary napkins to all those who could not afford them. It took him two years to find the right material and four years to develop a way to process it. The result was an easy to use, pocket friendly machine to make the sanitary pads. The sanitary pads made started reaching the women and also, his machine can be bought by women groups or schools to make their own sanitary pads. This has also developed jobs for women in rural India.
He sells 1,300 machines to 27 states in the country, and has begun exporting them as well. He started a revolution in his country and now stands as one of the most successful social entrepreneurs, with TIME magazine naming him among the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014. We need more of such people in the society, who overcome all the taboos and the social shame to erupt winners for the people who need help.
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