It is not easy to talk about menstruation and sanitary napkins in a country as conservative as India, that too for a man. Through humour and jokes, Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham, a school drop-out coming from a nondescript village in South India, describes his journey from being a person who saw his wife struggle during her periods to a person who decided to step in and find a solution for this particular problem majority of the women in India were facing.
The problem? Lack of affordable sanitary napkins. Studies reveal that seventy per cent of Indian women cannot afford sanitary napkins and 23% of Indian girls drop out of school because of menstruation-related problems. Sanitary Protection: Every woman’s health rights, a study conducted by A C Nielsen and reviewed and endorsed by the community development organization Plan India, reveals that only 12% of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins. While cloth strips have traditionally been used by Indian women who cannot afford sanitary napkins (70% of women in the survey said they could not afford them), the survey finds that un-sanitized cloth, ashes and husk sand are used by 88% of women leading to more cases of urinary tract and other infections.
Mr. Muruganantham at first got his wife to volunteer and later his sisters, to use the pads he made at home. When they began to shy away from discussing their personal womanly problems with him, he devised a technique by which he could test it out on himself. He devised an apparatus which at the press of a button would secrete a particular amount of blood onto the napkin he had fitted onto himself. This earned him the nickname as the first man who wore a sanitary napkin. He had to face many threats in his journey to success including his family disowning him, his wife threatening to divorce him and his village to expel him thinking he was possessed by some spirits of demonic nature.
Mr. Muruganantham patented the machine which he invented, founded Jayashree Industries which is now engaged in distributing the machine to the poor women folk in rural areas. The contraption he has come up with has been praised for its simplicity, ease of use and cost effectiveness. He could have made money, loads of it, simply by selling off his machine to any of the big corporate that operate within our country, but the greatness in him chose to decline those offers and he continues to provide his machine to Self Help Groups, thereby empowering them to fend for their needs, by creating employment for many rural Indian women who are not educated enough to earn enough to feed themselves and their families.
His vision is to make India a place where 100% women use sanitary napkins instead of the measly 5% now. According to a very inspiring interview given to the BBC, he opines gleefully, “The model of mass production is outdated, now it’s about production by the mass of people.”
You cannot afford to miss this very inspiring speech delivered at the event where Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012. There are two major highlights that strike an emotional chord, one, when he fishes out money and puts it on a chair to emphasize that a business need not be a rat run towards making money. The second is when he tells the audience that in order to lead a meaningful life, all you need is a problem. The final moment is when he calls this mission he has started, a (Silent) Second White Revolution – a fitting name in all senses.
There are lessons aplenty to be learnt from Mr. Muruganantham’s life and this speech. What is your learning from this speech?