Pharyngula

Crazy, obsessed, weird, perverse

Sometimes those are good descriptors. I read a happy story for a change this morning: it’s about Arunachalam Muruganantham, an Indian man who embarked on a long crusade to make…sanitary napkins. Perhaps you laugh. Perhaps you get a little cranky at a guy who rushes in to meddle in women’s concerns. And there’s some good reason to feel that way: he starts out with embarrassing levels of ignorance.

He fashioned a sanitary pad out of cotton and gave it to Shanthi [his wife], demanding immediate feedback. She said he’d have to wait for some time – only then did he realise that periods were monthly. “I can’t wait a month for each feedback, it’ll take two decades!” He needed more volunteers.

And then a man who didn’t realize until then that menstrual periods were monthly dedicated himself to years of tinkering and testing to build a machine to manufacture sanitary napkins, which just sounds perversely fanatical and obsessive. But it turns out to be a serious problem for poor women.

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality.

So Muruganantham set out to teach himself everything about making napkins, and examining and testing used menstrual pads. His wife left him. He was regarded as a sick pariah in his town — the disgusting guy who plays with menstrual blood. He was going up against traditional taboos and public squeamishness.

But he succeeded! He designed and built simple machines that take cotton and cellulose at one end and churn out disposable sanitary napkins — and it was relatively cheap, easy to maintain, and could be distributed to rural India where the women themselves could make the necessaries. And then we learn about his philosophy…

Muruganantham seemed set for fame and fortune, but he was not interested in profit. “Imagine, I got patent rights to the only machine in the world to make low-cost sanitary napkins – a hot-cake product,” he says. “Anyone with an MBA would immediately accumulate the maximum money. But I did not want to. Why? Because from childhood I know no human being died because of poverty – everything happens because of ignorance.”

He believes that big business is parasitic, like a mosquito, whereas he prefers the lighter touch, like that of a butterfly. “A butterfly can suck honey from the flower without damaging it,” he says.

Oh my god, an idealist. I thought they were all extinct! And such a fine beautiful specimen, too! I’m going to steal that metaphor, as well, just because it is so lovely.

Most of Muruganantham’s clients are NGOs and women’s self-help groups. A manual machine costs around 75,000 Indian rupees (£723) – a semi-automated machine costs more. Each machine converts 3,000 women to pads, and provides employment for 10 women. They can produce 200-250 pads a day which sell for an average of about 2.5 rupees (£0.025) each.

Women choose their own brand-name for their range of sanitary pads, so there is no over-arching brand – it is “by the women, for the women, and to the women”.

And my heart grew two sizes that day.

Comments

  1. […] By PZ Myers […]

  2. #2 oldebabe
    March 5, 2014

    None of those things. Just beneficial, to say the least.

  3. #3 brightmoon
    NYC
    March 5, 2014

    awwwww pz
    youre not a grinch

  4. #4 Martin
    March 6, 2014

    “Each machine converts 3,000 women to pads”.

    That should solve the overpopulation problems! I’m assuming there’s a funnel where you insert the women, and the pads pop out at the other end?

  5. #5 Windchaser
    March 11, 2014

    “Muruganantham seemed set for fame and fortune, but he was not interested in profit.”

    I think this is the key to success, too.

    Be passionate about an area, and be passionate about helping people. Success, money, and/or fame follow from this much more often than if you just pursue success, money and/or fame for their own sake.

  6. #6 Jim Thomerson
    Austin, TX
    March 11, 2014

    A late friend, a lady in her 90s at the time, maintained that the sanitary napkin was the greatest single invention ever. She was old enough to remember the days before.

  7. #7 Steven Earl Salmony
    Chapel Hill, NC
    March 12, 2014

    What Scientific Idea is Ready for Retirement?

    That human beings continuously increase the food supply for human consumption in order to meet the needs of a growing population is a colossal misperception, bereft of a foundation in science. Food is the independent variable and population numbers is the dependent variable, not the other way around. The actual dynamics of the relationship between food and population applies to all species. And of all species only the human species continuously increases its food supply. The distinctly human ability to increase its food supply is a vital difference between humans and other species. In such a situation a positive feedback loop is inadvertently produced between the increasing supply of food and rising population numbers in which increasing the food supply fuels the growth of human population numbers and that growth gives rise to a tragic misconception: food supply needs to increased even more in order to meet unnecessary human needs for more food production. With the benefit of heretofore unacknowledged scientific research we can see how more food for consumption by all species equals greater numbers of that species; less available food for consumption equals fewer numbers of any species, including the human species. No food, no species. No exceptions.

    According to the uncontested scientific research from Hopfenberg and Pimentel, human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species. How are we to do anything with regard to the global predicament spawned by skyrocketing human population numbers if we cannot widely share and consensually validate an adequate understanding, based upon the best available science, of why human numbers have been growing so rapidly? The science of human population dynamics has been a taboo topic for too long. I have come to believe that top rank scientists and other self-proclaimed population experts are acting as deliberate defenders of current, conventional, preternatural thought and willful deniers of scientific research regarding the human population. That you are willing to speak out loudly, clearly and often about what you see regarding human population dynamics/overpopulation takes intellectual honesty and uncommon courage.

    We appear to live in a time in which humankind’s perception has fractured schizophrenogenically and clarity of vision has been lost; when incoherent minds of the ‘brightest and best’ determine what was real; in a period of self-serving greed mongering, abject intellectual dishonesty and the absence of moral courage. Political convenience, economic expediency, specious demographics, ideological idiocy, social status quo, religious dogma, cultural prescription and incomprehensible avarice rule the world, reign supreme, darken the surface of Earth, pollute its environs and threaten future human well being and environmental health.

    Individually and collectively, human beings cannot make a difference that makes a difference if we continue not to question the ubiquitously broadcast delusions by the world’s leading elders who are directing our youth down a ‘primrose path’, probably to precipitate the utter extirpation of global biodiversity, the irreversible degradation of Earth’s ecology, the reckless dissipation of its limited resources… and the destruction of life as we know it. The very thing our leaders claim to be protecting and preserving for children everywhere and coming generations.

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