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Give Him A ‘Pad’ma Already! Lessons to Learn from the ‘Menstrual Man’

Posted: October 18, 2015

Arunachalam Muruganantham, the man who is known as the ‘Menstrual Man of India’ successfully designed and created simple machines for manufacturing low-cost sanitary napkins

Until a few years ago, Arunachalam Muruganantham was just a man out to impress his newly-wed wife. Today, he has successfully designed and created simple machines for manufacturing sanitary napkins. Made for the benefit of women in rural India, these affordable sanitary napkins are no mean substitute for the more expensive, industrially manufactured variety.

Appalled at his wife and sisters using “nasty rags” during menstruation, Muruganantham took matters in his own hands when he saw that affordability came in the way of basic hygiene and comfort.  He enlisted the help of his wife, sisters and female students from the local medical college, to help him figure out the best combination of raw materials needed to make sanitary pads.

Shunned by all for what appeared to be a “perverted” pre-occupation,  including the wife whom he had set out to impress, Muruganantham turned again to his most useful and reliable resource- himself. Wearing a football bladder filled with goat blood under his clothes, he went about testing the absorption capacity of his makeshift sanitary napkin, which he himself had put on. It took him four years, and complete social ostracization, to eventually succeed in designing the ingenious machine which would make cheap sanitary napkins in a few easy steps.

Here is what we can learn from Muruganantham the “Menstrual Man”, and his unusual journey through the secrets and stigma around women’s bodies.

Women Need to Start Talking About Their Bodies

The single most daunting obstacle faced by Murugunantham, was the silence around the natural phenomenon of menstruation. The shame and reluctance that his wife and sisters felt in speaking about their bodies, followed by the derision of his entire village for raising a pertinent question about basic sanitation, is an alarming example of how we shy away from any healthy discussion about female sexual health. However, Murugunantham was not easily silenced.

Not Using Sanitary Napkins is not just an Economic Issue

Muruganantham’s wife, though aware of the uses and advantages of sanitary napkins, chose to use dirty rags instead, for the sake of cutting down on household expenditure. However, this shows how women’s sexual and reproductive health is an issue that always takes a backseat, both economically and socially. Shockingly, we are a society where nearly 80% women consider sanitary napkins to be an ‘unnecessary’ expenditure, or even an urban luxury.

Innovation Doesn’t Necessarily need Education

A school dropout, and hailing from the backward hinterlands of south India, Murugunantham addressed a major lacuna in women’ s health, solely driven by curiosity, and a bewildered drive to solve a very basic sanitation problem in rural India. He educated himself industriously about  the problem at hand, asked the right questions, and found solutions all by himself.

Men can be Feminist too

Yes. Feminism is NOT synonymous with misandry. Many men are, and can truly be feminists. True, the body experiences so essential to a more  feminist understanding are something that men cannot fully relate to. But deep empathy, active awareness and a real belief in empowering women in a holistic manner, by equipping her economically, politically and socially, makes a man a feminist. And surely, Murugunantham is a heartening example.

Cover image via Facebook

Dabbling with many loves- literature and social development, quiet reading and loud activism, black coffee

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  1. i love the article.. when i first watched this man speaking at TED, i was fascinated. You have covered his journey in the most beautiful manner. I love the last point where you say that men can be feminist too.
    Good one

  2. The writer of this piece has succinctly brought into focus the many takeaways from The Menstrual Man’s endeavors. The last point, especially, is a very true observation- men, too can choose to be feminists, but it takes a lot of empathy. And, women do need to start talking about their bodies, despite the overall atmosphere not being conducive to the same.

    Overall, a lovely article with a corny title!

  3. Hats off to this guy who chose to face the societal stigma all along his journey…
    The part of the article which caught my attention the most was the family itself was apprehensive to talk about it.
    I guess change lways starts within first.
    Thanks for the well articulated article Swarnima.

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