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Disrupting women’s hygiene in rural India through design thinking.

Shagun

Having grown up in a middle class family in India, this came as a shock to me – 88% of women in India do not have access to sanitary napkins. They resort to using rags, ashes, newspaper, dried leaves and husk according to a study by AC Nielsen. According to an article in Fastcoexist, girls who attain puberty in rural areas miss school or drop out because of their periods. As a result of unhygienic practices, more than 70% of the women suffer from reproductive tract infections, increasing the risk of contracting associated cancers according to Guardian.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, a workshop helper who lived below poverty line in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu had other plans for sanitary towels. He has created a low cost machine for making sanitary napkins. He wanted to make a low cost napkin for his wife who couldn’t afford to buy any. Creating this machine has been an arduous process for Arunachalam. He tried to get feedback from his wife and sisters who refused to discuss his creations. He approached female medical students who weren’t responsive as well. Discussing your menstrual cycle with a stranger wasn’t something any woman that Arunachalam approached was ready to do. He was experimenting with cotton at the time. At his wits end, he did some usability testing by wearing it himself and using a bladder and tube contraption to release goats blood onto his creation.

He tested different materials over the course of two years and figured that the napkins were made from cellulose from the bark of a tree. After getting some samples of the raw material from various companies, he figured out how to make the napkins. He realized that creating cellulose from pine wood fibre was no simple task. The machine needed to do that was close to half a million dollars hence the dominance of big companies in the sanitary napkin market. It took Arunachalam 4 years to create a cheaper machine to do the same task. The machine could make 1000 napkins a day. The machine was awarded the best innovation for the betterment of society by the Institute of Technology in Chennai.  The napkins cost $0.25 (13 rupees) for a package of eight.

Women using Arunachalam's creation to make low cost sanitary pads.

Arunachalam doesn’t sell his product commercially. He provides sustainable livelihood to many rural women. His company helps rural women buy one of the $2500 machines through a loan. Around 600 machines are installed across 23 states. The idea is to create small industries all over India run by women creating a product that helps women. Arunachalam created a revolution around a topic that is considered a taboo. This system driven model will hopefully create a change in the way Indian women view hygiene and health.

References

India’s women given low-cost route to sanitary protection

An Indian Inventor Disrupts The Period Industry

Did Arunachalam go to Design School ?

Arunachalam’s Website

Video showing the workings of the machine (the video has background music and no narration)

One Response to “Disrupting women’s hygiene in rural India through design thinking.”

  1. Andrew Chong says:

    Hi,

    I am truly inspired by Mr Arunachalam’s simple invention that provide the basic health care for the poor in Indian. Especially for the women folks after reading your article above.

    I found his talk on Ted.com. His invention is so simple and cost effective for the poor.

    India should have more people like Mr Arunachalm. Congrulations and well done!!

    Regards
    Andrew Chong

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