The Indian Sanitary Pad Revolutionary
March 4, 2014 8:07 AM   Subscribe

"I will be honest," says Muruganantham. "I would not even use it to clean my scooter." The incredible and funny story of a man who set out to change the way sanitary pads are viewed and made in India.
posted by secretdark (36 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Incredible, funny, and then inspirational. Yeah, I know I come across like an Upworthy post saying that, but it applies.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

One of the best pieces I've read in weeks - hilarious & moving.

(God, I sound like a paid endorsement!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:21 AM on March 4, 2014

Previous discussion, though different links.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:24 AM on March 4, 2014

It's a good thing that previous discussion link is so old, because I was about to go off on whoever asked "why don't they just use a Diva cup or something like that" in that other thread.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:28 AM on March 4, 2014

Addendum to the above - I wasn't outraged at the diva cup proper, only at the idea that a poor woman in India would have access to one.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:29 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

While I'd add a qualifier to the generalization of India to say its a real challenge among the mass majority in the lower income brackets rather than ALL of India per se (because!) I want to thank secretdark for posting this.

I saw it this morning and low cost table top machine Mr Muruganantham (who is rare among men in his community* as I'll describe in a minute) has invented has truly the power to change things for the girl child. Data shows that there are few private girls toilets in government schools and this is one of the reasons girls miss a lot of school.

There is also a lot of patriarchal taboo around the menstruating woman, especially in south Indian cultures, which his name informs me he is from. For him to not only have loved his wife enough to care about this and to do something about it, its so far out of realm of the average Indian man's mindset, that it really sets him apart.

Kudos to him and I hope this machine gets shared around the country among women's self help groups and communities to make a real viable difference.

This (raises a glass of good cheer) is for the girl child.

tmi: As an expat kid, I'd bring stock from Malaysia whenever I'd return to college after vacations, Indian pads were so terrible and ridiculously priced.
posted by infini at 8:42 AM on March 4, 2014 [24 favorites]

That previous thread just makes me ...FLAMES...AT THE SIDES OF MY FACE... Between the people who think women need 8 pads per month and the people who are all What's So Bad About Wood Ash In Your Cooter? and the whole "but why do this if he won't get fucking rich" derail...I just...people. Thank god for folks like Muruganantham.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:46 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

One of the executives in residence where I work is heavily involved in the innovation community and, himself, from India. I sent him the link to this story.

I am secretly hoping there may be a way to invite this man to speak here, but I am not in a position to make such decisions.

This is an absolutely amazing story, and in a very simple way, he is changing and potentially saving lives for the better across the world. Astounding. He is absolutely astounding.
posted by zizzle at 8:47 AM on March 4, 2014

"What's So Bad About Wood Ash In Your Cooter?"

I think maybe I don't want to read those comments because this seems like a question that just answers itself.
posted by jeather at 8:51 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

"I've accumulated no money but I accumulate a lot of happiness”

What a wonderful human being. :)
posted by zarq at 8:52 AM on March 4, 2014 [14 favorites]

I wish all men cared so much about women's wellbeing and personal growth--giving more young women the basic freedom to go to school is so wonderful, as is helping to provide self-made business opportunities--and had as enlightened a perspective on capitalism as this man. If more men acted as Muruganantham did, I can't help but feel that so many of the world's problems would be resolved, quite easily.
posted by dubitable at 9:02 AM on March 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm pretty cynical about feel-good posts, but this one really made me feel good about a person doing something positive because it was the right thing to do (and at some personal non-financial cost, as the article makes clear).
posted by immlass at 9:12 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

The only problem capitalism itself tries to solve is whether a capitalist (owner of property or stock or bonds who largely lives on the income) profited this quarter. History is full of great people like this dude who solved or ameliorated a brutal, crushing problem that "rational self interested capitalists" wouldn't bat an eyelash at solving if self interest was inherently beneficial alone
posted by lordaych at 9:13 AM on March 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

What a great guy! It's funny though, along the lines infini suggested, how the story gets no more specific than "India". Through co-workers I know a scant bit about different Indian states and tried to find out where he was from, with no luck. It's like a story about the U.S. that didn't tell you if something was happening in rural Kentucky or Manhattan.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:28 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

This is so cool. Not to diminish the time, work, and sacrifice Muruganantham put into this—but so many problems are so eminently solvable with the application of a little ingenuity and the will to solve them. A commercial manufacturer would have spent thousands of man-hours bringing a product to market. Granted, it took this guy a few years, but he brought the product to the people who need it by himself, and at a fraction of the cost.

Of course, these are two different problems. Muruganantham was solving for "how can I mark this product accessible to people who can benefit from it?". Commercial manufacturers are solving for "how can I profit from this?".
posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:33 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

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?"

It's so good to remember that it's possible for one person to make a huge and lasting difference in the world.

I loved this, thanks for posting.
posted by billiebee at 9:58 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't leave off that initial 's'!
posted by thelonius at 10:02 AM on March 4, 2014

Did you know that sanitary pads were invented by World War I nurses? I remember learning this in a women's history course years ago.
posted by mareli at 10:04 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

His TED talk ... Gives you a close view of his thought process.

Really impressive.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 10:07 AM on March 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

Through co-workers I know a scant bit about different Indian states and tried to find out where he was from, with no luck. It's like a story about the U.S. that didn't tell you if something was happening in rural Kentucky or Manhattan.

He is from Coimbatore, in the Southern state of Tamil Nadu. That's probably why he mentioned he was from Coimbatore when asking for samples. Also, it is a major industrial and textile manufacturing hub.
posted by ssri at 10:12 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

horrible name for a band there
posted by Colonel Panic at 10:20 AM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

For more information about what has been used in the past, see the Museum of Menstruation.
posted by Sophie1 at 10:53 AM on March 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

Need a hero? Here's a real one. That TED talk video is great; this man is an object lesson in having one's priorities straight. It's so comforting to know people like him exist.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:05 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Every husband will be judged against this guy and will be found wanting. What an outstanding human being.
posted by peripathetic at 11:06 AM on March 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Wow! I'm so impressed by Muruganantham and his tenacity, his decency. Also, I had NO idea that "Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene...." as the article states. That's so wildly unacceptable. I'm glad Muruganantham's invention is helping to lower this appalling statistic.
posted by but no cigar at 11:15 AM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was most surprised by his comment that he did not know women menstruated monthly. I think that says a lot about the gap of understanding basic human biology in some places.

What a great thing for him to do.
posted by jillithd at 11:59 AM on March 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

The astonishing part for me was that he persevered so single-mindedly in the face of enormous social pressure. I think the part that kills me the most about it is that HIS WIFE LEFT HIM because the social stigma behind what he was doing was so great. I mean I can't blame her really because it sounds like the social pressure was intense. So ultimately the person he loved so much that his entire reason for going through this in the first place could not even bear to endure the shame of his cause. The sheer price of this ignorant, patriarchal wrong-headedness - not only to the population of poor Indian women as a whole, but the great personal price he was willing to endure to make this right, THAT is what I took away from this story.

I'm so glad he was ultimately reconciled with his family and wife and support network, but jesus clusterfuck christ what an enormous shame that conservative cultures worldwide continue to allow this kind of senseless ignorance to flourish, and that a man with only the best intentions would be made a social outcast simply for wanting to do what was right. argh.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:32 PM on March 4, 2014 [14 favorites]

Hey guys, just Be Cool.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 12:39 PM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

What a great person, to see this as a problem not just for his wife but for millions of women like her, to identify a plausible solution, and to persist despite such big impediments. What a genius, determined, ethically right-on, autodidact, bad-ass guy. Mr. Muruganantham, you have a fan in Australia.
posted by gingerest at 3:25 PM on March 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love this man so much, y'all: "Muruganantham is sceptical about the effectiveness of TV advertising. "You always have a girl in white jeans, jumping over a wall," he says. "They never talk about hygiene.""

...and props that he used goat blood (!!!!) instead of the mysterious blue liquid to test this stuff.
posted by mostly vowels at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

Seriously, where does menstrual product testing even happen? The only time I've ever gotten some pre-market semi-experimental menstrual products it was because I had a family member working at an advertising firm that was designing their packaging, and I assumed they'd already worked out the product details long before I came anywhere near them. Though I don't remember ever seeing the things on actual shelves, so maybe not.
posted by asperity at 5:07 PM on March 4, 2014

This was totally awesome of him. I'm glad his family came back and that the villagers realized he was trying to help.
The whole no safe toilets for women and girls remains a terrible problem in places like India, Latin America, and Africa.
Having periods makes it a more dire issue. And WTF not knowing women get periods? :(
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:11 PM on March 4, 2014

It's this thing we do every month, and no one wants to talk about it, even in more developed countries, except in a derogatory way. This guy is awesome.
posted by limeonaire at 7:13 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

This man is a hero and I'm so glad that things have worked out well for him.

But I had to laugh reading the story, because I kept thinking of the wife. Here was something she kept so secret that he didn't even know it was monthly. She was trying to hide the filthy rags when he stumbled across her problem in the first place. Most of the men I know here in the US holler and whine if you so much as say the word "period," I can't imagine how mortified she must have felt.

But next thing she knows, he's got a bladder of goat's blood down his pants, trying to test a napkin prototype. It cracks me up.

(I'm laughing at how flummoxed she must have been, not at the idea of a man trying to understand menstruation. Just to be clear.)
posted by Toothless Willy at 9:39 PM on March 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's funny though, along the lines infini suggested, how the story gets no more specific than "India".

"It took Muruganantham 18 months to build 250 machines, which he took out to the poorest and most underdeveloped states in Northern India - the so-called BIMARU or "sick" states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh."
posted by ninebelow at 3:34 AM on March 5, 2014

This guy is all kinds of awesome - Nobel Peace Prize awesome. It's a combination of solving a practucal problem, and shining light on a traditional taboo that greatly harms girls and women.
posted by theora55 at 6:13 AM on March 18, 2014

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