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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Maxi Pad Revolutionary

Posted by on Tue, Mar 4, 2014 at 4:16 PM

Fuck alla this business.

When Arunachalam Muruganantham realized his wife was using old, dirty rags when she got her period each month, he started working on an idea that might help poor and rural women get access to hygenic menstrual products.

"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.

Muruganantham worked for years to develop a cheap way to produce maxi pads. When he had a hard time finding women to help with his research in the conservative area where he lives, he strapped on a soccer ball full of goat's blood and tested the products himself:

He created a "uterus" from a football bladder by punching a couple of holes in it, and filling it with goat's blood. A former classmate, a butcher, would ring his bicycle bell outside the house whenever he was going to kill a goat. Muruganantham would collect the blood and mix in an additive he got from another friend at a blood bank to prevent it clotting too quickly - but it didn't stop the smell.

He walked, cycled and ran with the football bladder under his traditional clothes, constantly pumping blood out to test his sanitary pad's absorption rates. Everyone thought he'd gone mad.

After creating his simple machine, he went into business with NGOs and women to keep production going, and completely changed the lives of Indian women:

Women choose their own brand-name for their range of sanitary pads, so there is no over-arching brand - it is "by the women, for the women, and to the women". Muruganantham also works with schools - 23% of girls drop out of education once they start menstruating. Now school girls make their own pads. "Why wait till they are women? Why not empower girls?"

This story is incredible and so, so cool.

We've got this commercialized, Western dominated ideal when it comes to periods—you're allowed to have them, but only if you beat them into submission and never let anyone know you have one and still do jumping jacks in white pants the entire time—so it's easy to forget that a lot of women in the world don't even have access to stuff that makes rivers of blood* flowing out of your body more comfortable. It would have been so easy for Muruganantham to give up or sell out, but he kept going like a fucking champion.

*I know it's only like a few tablespoons a day but it feels like gallons and have YOU ever had your period even? HOW WOULD YOU KNOW! JESUS!


Comments (23) RSS

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Fnarf 1
Posted by Fnarf on March 4, 2014 at 4:27 PM · Report this
Wouldn't providing menstrual cups be cheaper and more effective?
Posted by ishf on March 4, 2014 at 4:48 PM · Report this
It's only a few tablespoons a day if you have a typical period. If you're one of the many people who have an abnormally heavy period, then it is, of course, far worse. And I'm betting that given the size of the population, there will be many women dealing with that in India.
Posted by uncreative on March 4, 2014 at 4:52 PM · Report this
Note that he started this to help his wife, but he lost his wife over this due to the stigma. The stigma associated with menstruation was so great that he lost his wife, his mother left, and then his village expelled him. But he kept going to make a difference.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on March 4, 2014 at 4:55 PM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 5
Holy mackerel, what a mensch.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on March 4, 2014 at 4:59 PM · Report this
emma's bee 6
Great writing about a great story. Thanks, Danielle.
Posted by emma's bee on March 4, 2014 at 5:04 PM · Report this
rob! 7
Emily Prager, ca. 1982, "The Man's Exam on Female Troubles," an excerpt:
...Trouble 1. Bleeding: A major trouble. Major. If you're like most men I know, you're pretty cranky if you get a cold. Well, consider if you will, how you would behave if, one week a month, every month, your lower back spasmed, your hips rumbled, and blood gushed from your genital organ. Good.

Now take this test:

(a) Would you want to go into work and do a sales presentation with blood dripping from your penis?

(b) Would you want to join in a touch football or pool game with blood dripping from your penis?

(c) Would you want to go to Crazy Eddie's and look at stereo equipment with blood dripping from your penis?

(d) Would you want to have sex with a girl you're trying to impress with blood dripping from your penis?

(e) Is there any chance that you'd be anything but short tempered, irrational, and depressed with blood dripping from your penis?

If you answered "yes" to any of the above, then you're a transsexual or in need of psychiatric care. If you answered "no," then let me ask you this, jerk: why do you expect any different from women?
Because the current generation should not be deprived. I had to dredge this up from some old usenet group on Google.
Posted by rob! on March 4, 2014 at 5:07 PM · Report this
NPR had a story about this guy about 8 mos ago. A truly amazing man.
Posted by anon1256 on March 4, 2014 at 5:10 PM · Report this
skidmark 9
He puts the Indian in ingenuity.
Posted by skidmark on March 4, 2014 at 5:51 PM · Report this
Why haven't more people responded to #2's suggestion? It's an important point.
Posted by Professor Slacker on March 4, 2014 at 5:56 PM · Report this
Soupytwist 11
@2 - Taboo and hygiene issues in rural poverty make cups a more difficult proposal. Someday.
Posted by Soupytwist on March 4, 2014 at 6:33 PM · Report this
What a great story!
@2, 10, and 11: Cups don't work very well at all, in my humble experience--too easy to accidently dislodge. Also as @11 says, there are hygiene issues.
Posted by crone on March 4, 2014 at 8:00 PM · Report this
@12 - depends what kind of cup you're using (two kinds don't work for me, but the last one I tried did. More might work than one out of three, but I stopped looking once I found one that worked) but the sanitation issue is also a human issue - access to clean water and sanitary facilities. That benefits everyone, not just menstruating women, and clean water charities like this one are going the distance on that front:
Posted by happyhedonist on March 4, 2014 at 8:47 PM · Report this
fletc3her 14
What I like is that he is making the machines rather than the product. Creating a cottage industry is much more effective than a single factory would be, but forgoes much of the profit.
Posted by fletc3her on March 4, 2014 at 9:30 PM · Report this
@12 Quite possible. I have a friend who can't use them because of the way her vagina is shaped. I personally love them, and it's far more of a problem for me to get the thing out than keep it in.
Posted by gnot on March 4, 2014 at 10:33 PM · Report this
15 con't: Despite having sneezed out tampons before. That's always fun.
Posted by gnot on March 4, 2014 at 10:35 PM · Report this
What an inspirational story, thanks Danielle!
Posted by BenY on March 5, 2014 at 12:30 AM · Report this
rob! 18
@16: I have been tempted to try tampons when my nose is running like a faucet...
Posted by rob! on March 5, 2014 at 12:55 AM · Report this
@4 [spoiler] his wife came back and now works with him.
Posted by Prettybetsy on March 5, 2014 at 4:03 AM · Report this
jBee 20
@18 that actually works really well.
Posted by jBee on March 5, 2014 at 4:15 AM · Report this
Welcome to 2012 Ted Talks slog and Danielle. You can listen to him tell the story.…
Like the first man to set foot on the moon, [I'm] the first man [who] wore a sanitary pad.
Posted by ChefJoe on March 5, 2014 at 8:05 AM · Report this
Cup user: They are less likely to leak, don't smell or feel gross like a tampon or pad, and all you need to do is boil them at the end of your period (in the 1st world countries we wash them daily with soap but it honestly isn't necessary)

I kinda wanna start buying diva cups for the 3rd world now.
Posted by tigntink on March 5, 2014 at 8:11 AM · Report this
@22 I was just thinking this. Maybe there are indeed taboos with inserting such a thing, but something that is hygienic, effective and reusable like a cup would just solve so many problems. Where there's a will there's a way!
Posted by UrsulaW on March 5, 2014 at 1:38 PM · Report this

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