Fifteen years ago, newly-married Arunachalam Muruganantham discovered his wife using rags during her menstrual cycle because their family couldn’t afford commercially available sanitary pads.
It was then that he went on a mission to create a sanitary napkin all women could afford. A school dropout from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, Muruganantham developed an innovative machine to produce low-cost pads using wood pulp.
Today, his company, Jayashree Industries, markets these machines to rural women all over India and also provides them with employment opportunities.
Women from rural India, even today, use rags, leaves, sand sawdust and even ash to control their menstrual flow. These methods are not only unhygienic, but also make women susceptible to a variety of diseases and infections.
Muruganantham says that just giving these women sanitary pads is not enough, because they don’t know what to do with them. “Giving out free pads is not the answer. In villages, I have seen children playing with pads, and men wiping the windshields of their vehicles with them. They have no idea what a sanitary napkin is used for,” Muruganantham says.
Muruganantham’s company urges women to invest in his machine through bank loans and with the help of non-profit organisations. He does this to facilitate the emergence of local businesses run by the women, for the women. The machine, which costs around Rs1 lakh, can produce over 1,440 napkins per day at a meagre price of 50 paise each.
Through this, he expects 7,000 women to get direct employment and about 3.5 million rural women to shift from rags to pads.
“By eliminating logistical costs and the cost incurred by middlemen and a brand ambassador, we can keep the price of the pad at its lowest. Also, the seller and the consumer usually know each other and women can buy sanitary napkins by bartering goods if they are running short of money. Where else can you buy pads in exchange for potatoes or tomatoes?” Muruganantham asks.