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The Power of Good; A Period Piece

— August 8, 2016

In the US today, 40 of the 50 states have what has been termed the “tampon tax.” Women in these states pay sales tax on feminine hygiene products, which have been described as “luxury” items, whereas things like food and medicine are considered “necessities.” Oh, and in some states, Viagra. Viagra is considered a “necessity.” A woman doesn’t need feminine products when she has her period but if she wants them, she’s going to be taxed. But by gosh, by golly, don’t tax the chemically manufactured erection pills! I’m not sure about the rest of the women out there, but I can safely say I do not consider my period a luxury, nor do I enjoy having to shell out too many dollars on overpriced yet monumentally essential sanitary items. I’m writing about Arunachalam Muruganantham because I find him to be an inspiration and admire those who champion women and our fundamental rights as human beings, no matter where they are in the world. The power of good is an amazing thing.

Arunachalam Muruganantham has transformed the way underprivileged women living in rural India and other developing nations manage their feminine and menstrual hygiene by creating a machine that helps produce inexpensive sanitary napkins for women who are unable to afford more expensive alternatives. Growing up in a poor family in southern India, Muruganantham, a school dropout, conceived the idea in 1998 after noticing his new wife trying to hide something from him. When he asked her what it was, he was surprised to find she was attempting to hide dirty rags she had used while menstruating. When he asked her why she wasn’t using sanitary pads, she responded that purchasing them would leave them destitute. After going into town to buy a pad for her, he understood what she meant when he learned the price of one “napkin” was 40 times what it should be. He decided to take action by making the pads himself.

Upon learning how few women in his village were actually able to afford sanitary pads (fewer than one in ten), followed by a less than successful first attempt to test his product on a group of female medical students, he decided to test it on himself. In place of an actual uterus, he fashioned holes in a football bladder and filled it with goat’s blood (and an additional stabilizer to prevent the blood from clotting too quickly.) He wore the makeshift uterus under his clothes everywhere he went, all while pumping the mixture of blood, in an effort to perfect his design.

His desire to create a cost-effective, comfortable hygienic pad led to some devastating consequences; his wife left him, he was branded a pervert by his neighbors and eventually run out of his village, his family abandoned him and he lost most of what little money he had. His efforts, however, caught the eye of a documentary filmmaker and he was featured in “Menstrual Man by Amit Virmani.”

Unable to understand why his pad didn’t work while major manufacturers’ did, Muruganantham began contacting the companies under the guise of being a textile mill owner who needed samples, which led him to build his first machine. He made the process as simple as possible, with just 4 steps involved, not only to increase output, but also to teach poorer women how to operate the machine that would benefit them for the rest of their reproductive years, as well as providing them with employment opportunities.

Arunachalam Muruganantham teaching women to use his machine; image courtesty of
Arunachalam Muruganantham teaching women to use his machine; image courtesty of

In just 18 months, he was able to build 250 machines. He stated he was not interested in profit due to his disdain for “parasitic” big business, which he likened to a mosquito gorging on the blood of others. He simply wanted to help women, expressing his desire to create one million jobs for economically disadvantaged females, with the ultimate goal of creating 10 million jobs globally. He is currently expanding his business to 106 countries.

He has since reunited with his wife and family, where they live together in a humble dwelling. He said, “I have accumulated no money but I accumulate a lot of happiness.” He now tours college campuses speaking to students, and was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2014. Not bad for a middle school dropout.

A woman’s period isn’t shameful, and it’s certainly not a luxury. Why, then, is it so often treated as such? It’s people like Arunachalam Muruganantham who remind us there is good all around. And for that, I can’t thank him enough.

Sources: India’s Menstruation Man How Ending the Tampon Tax Became Viral Legislation

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