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?"
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!