The Real 'Padman' Exclusive: Menstrual Hygiene Deserves The Oscar

What began as providing menstrual hygiene to one woman, his wife, has now changed the lives of rural women across India. Meet Padman, who's low-cost sanitary machines earned him worldwide recognition.

By Team ParentCircle

The Real 'Padman' Exclusive:  Menstrual Hygiene Deserves The Oscar
Arunachalam Muruganandam with his sanitary napkin machine

Becoming Padman was not an overnight success for Arunachalam Muruganandam. It took years of effort, setbacks and numerous trials and experiments, before he gave the world, its revolutionary cost-effective sanitary pads. His low-cost machines that make sanitary pads have earned him international recognition.

Back in the year 1998, sanitary pads were not that common, especially in rural India. Hailing from South India, Arunachalam was disheartened to see his wife using old rags to deal with her menstruation. Concerned about menstrual hygiene, he resolutely decided to make affordable sanitary napkins that could help his wife and other women during their period. This was the turning point and there has been no looking back since.

Steadfast in achieving his goal, and fighting the stigma surrounding menstruation, he was determined to take affordable sanitary pads to every nook and corner of the country. The efforts are ongoing. His movement has gained immense momentum and worldwide recognition. From being shunned by his own family and society, today he is hailed as a hero that the world looks up to. 

His phenomenal manufacturing machine has been installed in every state of India. He now runs several branches of Jayashree industries spread across India, and provides employment to rural women. Changing the lives of innumerable women across India, a 2018 English documentary on Arunachalam namely ‘Period. End of Sentence’, won an Oscar.

ParentCircle is honoured to have a short and sweet interview with the real Padman. Here are the excerpts:

Your small step led to a giant leap for menstrual hygiene in India. How does it feel to be the man who brought about this change?

I feel really happy that what I did has made a change in the way we look at women’s menstrual hygiene.

What do you think is the biggest obstacle when it comes to changing attitudes on issues related to women's hygiene?

It’s an age-old taboo. Moreover, women do not respect and take care of their own health.

Changing mindsets in India is not easy. Do you believe change begins at home?

Yes! The discussion has to start from home!

Do you feel the stigma surrounding menstruation is waning these days with all the attention it is getting?

Yes! The taboos are removed one by one. But there is still a long way to go for real change!

People, including your own family members, opposed you when you started working on the idea of lost cost sanitary pads. How have their attitudes changed?

A lot has changed. Today, my wife spends her time to educate girls on women health and menstrual hygiene.

You have faced much adversity — at home and within society. What kept you motivated and working when you were opposed and shunned?

I worked on an engineering platform. So I knew that even if I fail 9999 times, if I only change an angle or a blade I might succeed someday. This kept me going!

You have made a difference to several women’s lives. Any story or incident that stands out?

One day I met a mother who said her daughter starting going to school. She was not afraid of periods after using the pads. This is a memorable incident.

‘Period. End of Sentence,’ won the Oscar. How does it feel that your story and efforts have reached a global audience?

Menstrual hygiene got the oscar. I hope this helps to spread awareness across the globe.

An Oscar-winning documentary and several recognitions. But, what do you consider as your biggest achievement so far?

To me everyday is a fresh new day! And each day brings with it a lot of challenges. If at all I have to pick, it would be the joy of meeting new people every other day!

What are the difficulties you faced in setting up the low-cost machines across India? 

It is quite difficult. Each region in India have their own languages, cultures, beliefs and traditions. So, we first went, and studied and understood the locality first, and accordingly promoted the benefits of women health management to them. Having a tailored approach makes them more inclined to accept it. 

In how many places across India have you installed these machines?

We have installed in all the states of India. Wish to reach every nook and corner of the country.

Do you provide machines to corporate companies as part of their CSR initiatives to reach out to government schools or underprivileged women? 

Yes, several companies have come forward with their CSR activities. We help them to set the machine up with a beneficiary, who could use it for their own livelihood and promote hygiene management.

You have been approached to commercialise your venture, which you have refused. Your thoughts on this?

I want this to be a model where everyone benefits. My model is based on measuring social impact and not revenues. Revenue is just a byproduct.

What can parents do to spread menstrual hygiene awareness among their teenage daughters?

Discuss with them and answer their many questions. Let them know it’s natural!

How should parents raise their sons in terms of perceiving the menstrual cycle as a natural phenomenon?

There is Men in Menstruation. That answers the question!

What is your message to men who remain oblivious to menstruation by choice and what part can they play in the lives of women they are close to?

Stand by her!

What is the message you would like to share with our readers (who are predominantly women and mothers)?

Educate your children on the importance of hygiene, but before that, you must take care of yours! Healthy mothers, healthy nation!

Hall of fame:

  1. Arunachalam is renowned for his invention of low-cost sanitary napkin machines.
  2. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2016.
  3. TIME magazine featured him in the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014.
  4. The Bollywood feature film, Akshay Kumar starrer Padman, was based on Muruganandham's inspiring journey.
  5. 'Period. End of Sentence' won the Best Documentary (Short Subject) at the Oscars for the year 2018.
  6. He has given talks at IIT Bombay, IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore and Harvard University. He has also given a TED talk.

Also read: Pad Man: Exclusive Movie Review by a Teen

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