How one man found a way to create low-cost sanitary pads for women in India

Mar 2, 2016 at 12:10 a.m. ET
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Menstruation is still a taboo topic in many parts of the world, but one Indian man is fighting the stigma — and others thinking he's a "pervert" — to help women have access to low-cost sanitary pads.

In a new video by Al Jazeera, Arunachalam Muruganantham explains that he was newly married when his wife Shanthi held something behind her back and wouldn't let him see. He eventually figured out that it was a "dirty cloth" she used to control her monthly menstruation.

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She wasn't the only one using less-than-sanitary methods to control her monthly bleeding. According to his research, more than 30 million women in rural areas don't have access to menstruation products — and most don't use them at all. One in five girls even leaves school when they start their periods.

And of those who do use pads? There's the risk of disease from dirty cloths — according to the BBC, approximately 70 percent of all reproductive diseases are caused by poor menstrual hygiene.


Muruganantham soon decided that he could help. He cut cotton from a roll and fashioned it into a pad, which he asked his wife to test. However, since it only happens once a month, he thought it would "take decades" to conduct his research. He asked female medical students, but they were too embarrassed to give feedback; so, he decided to wear a sanitary pad and fashioned a "uterus" that he wore around town.

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That turned him into an outcast and the town pervert — and Shanthi left him.

He didn't stop his research, eventually figuring out that cellulose was the missing ingredient in his pads. The problem: He needed machines to manufacture the product. Instead of going to big business, he made one on his own — and it's been a wild success with more than 512 brands using his sanitary pad technology to create low-cost options for women across India.

And as for his personal life? Shanthi came back to him after seeing him on television.

This remarkable man refuses to sell his machine to companies, instead focusing on creating jobs for women and expanding to more than 100 developing countries.

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"Our success is entirely down to word-of-mouth publicity," he told the BBC in 2014. "Because this is a problem all developing nations face."