The following story describes menstrual life for women in India, and an effort of one man (yes, man!) to better it by inventing a machine for making sanitary pads at home. Arunachalam Muruganatham, the inventor, just earned a spot in Time’s 100 most influential people (May 2014).
You can read his fascinating story at BBC News. Excerpts:
- A 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads… Women don’t just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.
- 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.
- There are still many taboos around menstruation in India. Women can’t visit temples or public places, they’re not allowed to cook or touch the water supply – essentially they are considered untouchable.
- It was hard even to broach the subject in such a conservative society. “To speak to rural women, we need permission from the husband or father,” he says. “We can only talk to them through a blanket.”
- There are also myths and fears surrounding the use of sanitary pads – that women who use them will go blind, for example, or will never get married.
This story affords us a raw glimpse into women’s lives, health, and cultural practices in the most intimate of ways. We tip our hats to Mr. Muruganatham and to the others who devote their lives to making a difference.