Guts For Change gets to talk to India’s ‘Sanitary Napkin Man’!
Arunachalam Muruganantham of India has been solely responsible for bringing a revolution in menstrual health of women in India where only twelve percent of women use sanitary napkins. Mr Murganantham has been able to bring the change by inventing an award winning simple machine which is used by rural women to make cheap sanitary napkins. This humble man from the rural area of state of Tamil Nadu had to put almost everything that he held important in his life at stake to realize his goal of offering a solution to the problem of poor menstrual health among rural women of India. Mr.Muruganantham has been featured among TIMES magazines hundred most influential people in the year 2014. Guts For Change spoke to this inspiring social entrepreneur to learn more about his story.
What inspired you to work on improving the poor menstrual hygiene of women in India?
I always tell people if you want to start a social change start from your family or like me –start from your wife. In the year 1998 when I was newly married,my wife Shanthi was my world.I would look for opportunities to impress her. One day, I saw Shanthi hiding some rag clothes from me. I was shocked to learn that those dirty rags were being used by her when she was going through her menstruation.Those rags were so dirty that I wouldn’t have used them as a mop. When, I asked my wife that why she didn’t use sanitary napkins, she said that if she had to buy sanitary napkins than she wouldn’t be able to buy groceries for the house. Then I thought of impressing my wife by buying her a packet of sanitary napkins. I was surprised to learn that the packet was handed to me in a brown packet by the shopkeeper as if it was contraband. That was one of my first awareness about the social stigma and ignorance that surrounded the concept of menstruation in India.I weighed it in my hand and wondered why 10g (less than 0.5oz) of cotton, which at the time cost 10 paise (£0.001), should sell for 4 rupees (£0.04) – 40 times the price. I decided I could make them cheaper. I also struggled to even find volunteers to use the sanitary napkins made by me, so there were times I used to test them by wearing the pad myself.
I also learned that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads – fewer than one in 10. My findings were confirmed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pad. I was shocked to learn that rural women don’t just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash which is one of the main reasons of reproductive diseases among women.
What projects you are currently involved in and what are the kind of challenges you face today when you take your product to various women in rural India?
According to me 90 percent of women in India don’t use sanitary napkins and if you negate the data from metropolitan cities of India than I would say only 5 percent of women in India use sanitary napkins. My goal is to make 100 percent of women in India use sanitary napkins. Today I am reaching out to villages across India to spread the revolution. My observation is that it’s not that women in India are not aware about the availability of sanitary napkins but their lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene and silly superstitions. One such superstition I came across in a village in the state of Uttar Pradesh where they said a used sanitary napkin of an unmarried girl if exposed will result in delay of her marriage. I with my team work on educating these women about the menstrual hygiene and introduce them to the process of producing their own sanitary napkins which results in them generating their own income and running their household. I would say this also results in women empowerment. I am also working with various NGO’s to spread the awareness not only in India but also in various other developing and under developed countries across the world.
This leads me to my next question, what would you say is the chain reaction to your work of providing sanitary napkins for cheap price?
If you want to measure a country’s development, you have to measure it through the empowerment of its women. So the work I am doing results in women empowerment. When the women of the house start earning money, they run the house better, they send their children to school and practice healthy way of living not just for themselves but for the whole family.
What would you like to advice to people who want to be social entrepreneurs?
My advice to all those people who want to be social entrepreneurs that they should not look for opportunities but look for a problem and then try to it address it with their knowledge or try to acquire the requisite knowledge to solve the problem. That for me is the greatest feature of a social entrepreneur.
What would you like your daughter, Preethi to do when she grows up?
I want her to live her life with the freedom to choose her options and I want to fulfill my duties as good parent i.e. is to be able to answer all her questions or work with her to find the answers. I also wish that she is aware of the Mother Nature and the abundance it has given us.