For healthy women in America, the most complex period related issue is typically which brand of tampon to use. These days in the US a menstrual cycle is more an an inconvenience than anything else, while in less fortunate countries (like India) periods are serious business. But thanks to the efforts of one (unlikely) man, the shame faced by many women in rural India has been greatly decreased.
Contrary to popular belief, the US has not always been the epitome of convenience. This country has come a long way in the past few decades; until the 1970s, feminine products in the US left a lot to be desired as pads needed to be hooked onto an archaic device, closer resembling a chastity belt than an effective means of controlling one’s period. But particularly in the last 25 years, American women have had the benefit of being able to choose from several brands and styles of feminine products, making for a much less cranky “time of the month.” Until recently, India has lacked innovation in the area of affordable feminine hygiene items, but thanks to one innovative man, the shame of not being able to purchase store-bought feminine products is coming to an end.
In rural India, menstruation goes beyond being a minor inconvenience, with lives on hold and reputations at stake. Some women ending up literally sitting on hay and waiting for the time to pass, and others have had to rely on using rags, which poses serious problems in terms of cleanliness. If rags are reused, they must be washed thoroughly and left to air dry, but there is a stigma about using rags, so women tend to take precautions to others do not see their used rags. In order to avoid being shamed, those who use rags often let them dry in the dark, making them vulnerable to mold and insects. Needless to say, the conditions women have had to face during their periods are unacceptable. However, thanks to the innovation of one man, many women in rural India are finding themselves taken care of in a way they never thought possible, by way of better products, and even employment.
Arunachalam Muruganathan, a high school dropout, a (previously) poor man, and an unexpected candidate for “most likely to revolutionize the female period experience” has spent the last few years diligently pushing rural India into this century, at least as far as feminine hygiene goes. Because of Muruganathan’s efforts, future generations of women in rural India will never have to feel the shame of having to disrupt their lives for three to seven days every month. Muruganathan has rightfully earned the respect of many, and his journey has been documented in a new film, aptly titled, Menstrual Man.
Muruganthan’s journey in the feminine product business began out of a fascination borne out of empathy for his wife’s plight with how women in India have had to struggle to control their periods without modern luxuries. Some women in India have Ipods, but not sanitary napkins. It just seemed wrong to Muruganathan, and this prompted him to take action, leading him on his journey to becoming “Menstrual Man.” Muruganathan did extensive research in his backyard with- wait for it- used sanitary napkins he had collected. Not surprisingly, friends and neighbors reacted in horror and shamed Muruganathan, but he was determined to put an end to a major problem.
After much research, many failed attempts, and a whole lot of flack and shame from just about everyone around him, Muruganathan found himself at a difficult crossroads. Ultimately, his wife, who he had initially wanted to create this product for, left him. But in the end, determination won, and Muruganathan was able to not only build an effective sanitary napkin, he was able to create a machine that would become accessible to many others to make low-cost pads. And just like any very non-traditional hero story, Muruganathan’s wife eventually came running back to him.
Now women in rural India can finally stop worrying about their menstrual cycle and have more time to focus on more important things. Thanks to Muruganthan’s efforts, future generations of girls will never have to know the shame of having to air-dry used rags after their period, or find scorpions in the rags they chose to dry inside. That puts American first-world-problems into perspective just a bit. Muruganathan’s journey proves that perseverance wins in the end, and it pays off to keep going, especially when no one believes the outcome will be successful. Menstrual Man is aptly named, and his efforts make him nothing less than a superhero. Period.
Opinion by Bonnie Sludikoff