A school dropout from a poor family in southern India has revolutionised menstrual health for rural women in developing countries by inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads.Going against the taboos and ignorance that surrounded women and menstruation in his rural village, Arunachalam Muruganantham set out to develop an inexpensive and workable solution that would allow women to make and sell sanitary pads for themselves. It would empower women, give them jobs, and give them a product that would immensely improve their lives.
"It all started with my wife," he says. In 1998 he was newly married and his world revolved around his wife, Shanthi, and his widowed mother. One day he saw Shanthi was hiding something from him. He was shocked to discover what it was - rags, "nasty cloths" which she used during menstruation....
When he asked her why she didn't use sanitary pads, she pointed out that if she bought them for the women in the family, she wouldn't be able to afford to buy milk or run the household.
He developed prototypes and tested them with the help of as many women as he could get to overcome their traditional shame at even the mention of menstruation.
You have to read the article to get a sense of the tremendous obstacles he had to overcome to develop a good product.
When Muruganantham looked into it further, he discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads - fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads.The effects are far-reaching, on women's health, from education, to work, to the simple freedom to move about in public.
Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don't just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.
Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don't get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene - it can also affect maternal mortality.
It took five years of persistence and ingenuity, but he finally achieved what he'd envisioned: a machine that can make sanitary pads at a fraction of the cost of the big commercial brands, and one that can be used and maintained by rural women themselves.
When his invention won a national innovation award, he declined to cash in on it for himself:
Muruganantham seemed set for fame and fortune, but he was not interested in profit. "Imagine, I got patent rights to the only machine in the world to make low-cost sanitary napkins - a hot-cake product," he says. "Anyone with an MBA would immediately accumulate the maximum money. But I did not want to. Why? Because from childhood I know no human being died because of poverty - everything happens because of ignorance."....I encourage you to read the whole article. It's wonderful.
"I have accumulated no money but I accumulate a lot of happiness," he says....
"My aim was to create one million jobs for poor women - but why not 10 million jobs worldwide?" he asks. He is expanding to 106 countries across the globe, including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.