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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

11

Meet the Ostracized, Pad-Wearing, Goat's-Blood-Collecting Reproductive Health Hero of Southern India

The BBC put up the coolest story you will read all week, maybe, about a man named Arunachalam Muruganantham:

"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.

"I will be honest," says Muruganantham. "I would not even use it to clean my scooter." 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.

Wanting to impress his young wife, Muruganantham went into town to buy her a sanitary pad. It was handed to him hurriedly, as if it were contraband. He weighed it in his 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. He decided he could make them cheaper himself.

He fashioned a sanitary pad out of cotton and gave it to Shanthi, demanding immediate feedback. She said he'd have to wait for some time – only then did he realise that periods were monthly. "I can't wait a month for each feedback, it'll take two decades!" He needed more volunteers.

It was hard for him to find any. Only 12% of women in India use pads, and in rural areas the "take-up is far less than that. [Muraganantham] was shocked to learn that women don't just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash." Additionally:

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.

Muruganantham kept hitting walls—he was a poor workshop worker, outside the social class of the college students who would be the most likely volunteer testers for his products—so he decided, finally, to test his pads on himself. He made a uterus out of a soccer ball and filling it with goat's blood, and he walked and bicycled and ran all around town with his fake uterus bleeding onto his sanitary pads. Everyone thought he was a diseased pervert! His wife left him! The villagers tried to chain him upside down to a tree to be healed! The rest of the story (he succeeded, four years later!) is marvelous, a truly delightful example of someone using male privilege for the general good. Arunachalam Muruganantham, everybody. We salute you. [BBC]



11 Comments / Post A Comment

lucy snowe

What a great article!

I had a sad laugh when I read his frustration at advertising about sanitary pads: they always show a woman in white jeans jumping over a wall. They never talk about hygiene.

rebecca the brave

i came down to say the same thing! I mean, have jumped over a wall while wearing white jeans only two or three times.

Jaya

This article made me so happy. I can't imagine dropping out of school because I got my period, but even in my few travels to India I remember how hard it was to find pads/tampons, and I was staying in nicer hotels.

Also I would like a detailed diagram of this football goat blood uterus please.

avidbiologist

This is so cool! I often read about things men are doing to help women in the world with a lot of heavy skepticism, ready to figure out where he's not getting it, but really it seems like this dude is awesome and is doing a great job.

Lucienne

@avidbiologist I was thrilled to read [spoiler] that his wife came back and now works with him.

dontannoyme

Great story and a great man. Just thinking about how disempowered these women are that it is absolutely impossible for them to move this forward without a very determined man. He's done something fantastic for women - let's hope one day they can do it for themselves.

stinapag

Oh, this was just wonderful to read. I can't even begin to imagine not having access to pads or tampons.

commanderbanana

Embarrassed that I have to ask this, and totally feeling my privilege, but...how does poor menstrual hygiene cause reproductive diseases?
I also encourage folks to check out the sanitary napkin factory in Rwanda that's making them out of banana leaves. The founders realized that girls were missing so much school because they couldn't go when they were on their periods because they couldn't afford to buy pads.

CordeliaFitz

Now here's someone with a really good attitude towards menstruation.

arkad

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