It began in 1998, when Arunachalam Muruganantham, the son of a poor handloom weaver in South India, realised that his wife was using old rags to deal with menstruation because she couldn’t afford sanitary pads. Muruga was shocked. He presented a homemade prototype pad to his wife and asked her to test it. The feedback she gave him was devastating – the pad was useless and she would rather continue using old rags. What was the difference between his sanitary pads and those available at the shop? Muruga started experimenting with different materials, but was faced with another problem: he always had to wait a month before his wife could test each new prototype. Muruga needed volunteers and had an idea where he might find them. He asked medical students at a university close to his village. Some of them actually tested his pads but they were too shy to give him detailed feedback. Left with no alternative, he decided to test the sanitary pads himself.
Muruga built a uterus using a rubber bladder, filled it with animal blood and fixed it to his hip. A tube led from the artificial uterus to the sanitary pad in his underpants. By pressing the bladder he simulated the menstrual flow. But he began to smell foul and his clothes were often stained with blood. His neighbours soon noticed this. It was clear to them that Muruga was either ill or perverted. After a while his wife couldn’t stand the constant gossip. She left him and went to live with her mother. But Muruga didn’t give up. He knew why he was going through all this. During his research he had learned that only ten to twenty percent of all girls and women in India have access to proper menstrual hygiene products. This was no longer just about helping his wife. Muruga was on mission: to produce low-cost sanitary pads for all the girls and women in his country, reports Aljazeera.
It was two years before he finally found the right material and another four years before he developed a way to process it. The result was an easy-to-use machine for producing low-cost sanitary pads. Imported machines cost over $500,000. Muruga’s machine, by contrast, is priced at $950. Now women’s groups or schools can buy his machine, produce their own sanitary pads and sell the surplus. In this way, Muruga’s machine has created jobs for women in rural India. He has started a revolution in his own country, selling 1,300 machines to 27 states, and has recently begun exporting them to developing countries all over the world.
Today, Muruga is one of India’s most well-known social entrepreneurs and TIME magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2014.