Grassroots innovation for menstrual hygiene

While there has been so much brouhaha about India’s efforts towards achieving Total Sanitation, we still lack a focus towards some basic personal hygiene practices, like the use of sanitary napkins during menstruation. India claims an abysmally low usage of feminine hygiene products, even something as basic as a sanitary napkin is used by only a few ‘urbanised’ women. A survey by the NGO Plan India found that 81 per cent rural women still use unsterilised cloths since they are cheaper as compared to the branded sanitary napkins. This unhygienic yet prevalent practice has rendered over 70% Indian women prone to reproductive tract infections.

The survey also mentions that 88% women in India use alternatives unsanitised cloth, sand and even ashes during their mensures. When Muruganatham, an entrepreneur from Coinbatore, saw his wife using a cloth which says he was dirtier than a cloth he would use in his workshop, he was horrified. He decided to devise a cheaper sanitary napkin for women like his wife and sisters, who could not afford the sanitary napkins currently available in the Indian markets. He realised that there are two barriers to his task, first he had to figure out the material that was being used and then he had to look for cost effective machinery to convert it into a sanitary. So, he set himself to the task, and for almost four years later,in 2004, he came up with assembly of machines which could 1000 pads a day for just Rs. 1 to Rs. 1.50 per pad, which turns out to be cheaper as compared to the existing sanitary napkins which cost anywhere between Rs. 3 to Rs.6.

A blog on the Urban Poverty website says that Initially he worked with cloth but that didn’t give the desired results. He got a commercially available napkin and found out that they used wood fiber for draining the fluids and retaining shape of the pad. He sourced the requisite raw material and developed the final assembly of machines in 2004. He got encouraging feedback on it’s efficancy and subsequently improved the machine by adding UV sterilization unit, calibration and increasing the production rate to 1000 pads per day.

With this machine Muruganatham has not only catalysed the personal hygiene drive for women from all sections of the society, but also provided them with a new entrepreneurial opportunity. His sanitary napkin making machines are already set up in more than 200 locations across India, and he has envisioned to set up over 20,000 of these in the next one and a half years. The machine is especially popular among the small entrepreneurial groups, particularly because it is available at a low cost and can generate new employment opportunities for women.

The blog also quotes Muruganatham from the Ashoka Changemakers wesite,“With our low-cost technology innovation, women will not only be able to get access to affordable, hygienic, eco-friendly sanitary pads,”……..“But most importantly, [women] participate in the entire lifecycle of the technology development process not just as users, but also as technology designers, manufacturers, marketers!”

This novel innovation has been widely acclaimed, including the prestigious National Grassroots Innovation Award for the year 2009. Muruganantham’s initiative is geared towards women empowerment, not just economically but socially too, since it aims to banish the stigma away from menstruation and promote feminine hygiene. Personally, I feel that this initiative has also steered attention towards personal hygiene practices,which is a very important to the India’s vision for achieving total sanitation and therefore should be a part of its mandate. Also, it is very important to promote the right method of disposing a used sanitary napkin along with its use.

Finally, a major concern remains about sustainability. A cheaper version is not the only solution, we need to look deeper for a more environment friendly solution.

Watch how the sanitary napkin making machine works, here.

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1 Response to Grassroots innovation for menstrual hygiene

  1. Ayesha Vemuri says:

    I also thought that that point that came up, about schools that provide sanitary napkins to encourage girls to attend more regularly, was really interesting. I found a similar initiative in Africa as well – which aims to bring education and employment opportunities to women in Africa. They too provide girls with sanitary napkins, to encourage better hygiene and health but also to reverse the phenomenon of them missing up to a week of school each month.

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