SEATTLE — According to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization, 67 percent of women have had to borrow a sanitary essential from a friend, colleague or family member. It has been revealed that about 43 percent of Indian women do not have access to sanitary essentials at the beginning of their periods, while 36 percent felt uncomfortable buying them with other customers around.
According to a National Family Health Survey, about 62 percent of women between 15 and 24 years old still rely on a cloth during periods. The women who use rags or cloths during their periods are too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means these cloths do not get disinfected. Approximately 70 percent of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.
Arunachalam Muruganantham saw firsthand the difficulty women face when he saw his new bride, Shanthi, sneaking a dirty rag out of the bathroom. When he asked why she did not use a sanitary pad, she said buying them would not fit into their household budget.
Muruganantham, feeling bad for his wife, decided to go out and buy a pack of sanitary pads for Shanthi. “I realized that the raw material, the cotton, being used for these pads was for just 10 paise [$0.0015]. But these multi-millionaire companies were selling it for 40 times the cost. So, I got to work and thought I’d make sanitary pads at home for my wife,” Muruganantham explained.
From wearing the pads himself for days at a time to asking family members and other women to volunteer, Arunachalam worked vigorously to find the right materials. Muruganantham spent the next two years performing extensive research. Eventually, Muruganantham figured out that the major producers of sanitary pads used cellulose fibers that were derived from pine bark wood pulp to hold the shape of the pad together so that the blood and fluids would not break down the pads.
Even with this breakthrough, Muruganantham knew the machines needed for production were far too expensive to buy. “The machines that were being used to produce these pads, however, cost millions of rupees. Nor did I have that money, neither could the people I wanted to help with sanitary pads in India afford such expensive products,” states Muruganantham.
However, Muruganantham was lucky enough to be given processed pine wood pulp from a supplier in Mumbai. With this, Muruganantham spent 18 months building 250 machines to mass produce his sanitary pads in India.
“Now, the same machine is being used by numerous women in 24 states of India to earn their livelihood. These women are also making their families and communities aware about menstrual hygiene, and using sanitary pads in India on a monthly basis–unlike those advertisements that have women jumping around in white pants, not focusing on hygiene,” informs Muruganantham.
Arunachalam’s pads are bought by NGOs and women’s self-help groups. Each machine also provides employment for 10 women, who produce 200 to 250 pads a day. These pads are then sold for an average of Rs. 2.50 ($0.037).
In 2014, he was one of Time’s Most Influential People in the World. In 2016, he was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India. Arunachalam Muruganantham, ironically known as Pad Man, has revolutionized affordable sanitary pads in India.
– Richard Zarrilli