This story that I have come across on Al Jazeera has absolutely captured my heart. It is the story of one man from India, whose simple loving gesture to his wife – which was rejected, has become the lifeline for thousands of other women. His name is Arunachalam Muruganantham, and when sixteen years ago he realized that his wife was using old rags during her period because she couldn’t afford sanitary pads, he was so shocked that he decided to make sanitary pads for her.
That was easy. He bought a roll of cotton wool and cut it into pieces, the same size as the pads sold in the shops, and then wrapped a thin layer of cotton around it. He then gave it to his wife and asked her to test it. He wasn’t quite prepared for her reaction. She said the pad was useless and she would rather continue using old rags.
Not one to give up too soon, he began experimenting with different materials to make the pads, but unfortunately, he would have to wait a whole month till his wife’s next period. That was too long a wait, and so he decided to take a different approach. He got other women to test his new pad designs. But yet another problem arose. Some of the women who tested his pads were too shy to give him detailed feedback.
Frustrated, he decided to try something new – literally. He decided to test the sanitary pads himself. He made an artificial uterus using a rubber bladder, filled it with animal blood and fixed it to his hip. A tube led from the artificial uterus to the sanitary pad in his underpants. While walking and cycling, he would keep pressing the bladder, thus stimulating the ‘menstrual flow’.
But within 20 minutes, he would be stinking, and his clothes were blood-stained. Animal blood. Definitely a foul smell. Everyone around him began talking. It was clear to his neighbors that he was either ill or perverted. Perhaps even more heartbreaking is when, tired of the constant gossip, his wife left him and went to live with her mother. She thought that by leaving him, he would come back to his senses. He did not. 20 days after she left, he was issued with a divorce notice.
But Muruganantham didn’t give up. He knew why he was going through all this. During his research, he had learned that only 10 – 20% of all girls and women in India have access to proper menstrual hygiene products. This was no longer just about helping his wife. He wanted to produce affordable pads for low-income girls and women.
It would be two years before he would finally found the right material, and another four years before he developed a way to process it. The result was an easy-to-use machine for producing low-cost sanitary pads. Imported machines cost over US$500,000. Muruganantham’s machine, by contrast, is priced at US$950. Now women’s groups or schools can buy his machine, produce their own sanitary pads and sell the surplus. In this way, his machine has created jobs for women in rural India. He has started a revolution in his own country, selling 1,300 machines to 27 states, and has recently begun exporting them to developing countries all over the world.
Today he is one of India’s most well-known social entrepreneurs and TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014.
Several corporations have offered to buy his machine, but he has refused, instead preferring to sell to women’s self-help groups. And yes, he became reunited with his wife again!
What an inspirational story! Lots of lessons to learn for us all.
*This information is sourced from Al Jazeera.