Celebrate Solutions: Addressing Taboos to Improve Women’s Lives

By: Yousra Yusuf, Women Deliver

Imagine having to live in a cow-shed without any change of clothes for a week every month. Or, imagine being banished to a dark, secluded corner of your house because you are considered to be “cursed”. Seems unrealistic and utterly wrong, right? It did to me. But this is the reality of girls and women in many parts of the world where any mention of menstruation is still taboo. In India, Jayaashree Industries is working to combat that.

The taboo related to menstruation has a profound effect on girls and in India, and especially on those living in rural areas. According to the study “Sanitary Protection: Every Woman’s Health Right” conducted by Plan India and AC Nielsen, only 12% of girls in the country have access to sanitary napkins, as compared to 64% of girls in China and 100% of girls in Singapore and Japan. As a result, and largely due to financial constraints, 88% of Indian women use cheaper alternatives such as ash, mud and dried husk to staunch blood flow, which can increase risks of developing reproductive tract infections. School attendance is also affected, as the shame surrounding menstruation often causes girls to stay home or drop out of school entirely.

Jayaashree Industries decided to help tackle this problem by providing girls and women with machines to build their own supply of disposable pads. Founder Arunachalam Muruganantham, a high school dropout and a 2009 winner of India’s Best Innovation Award, explained in a TED talk how he came up with the ideas of making cheap, disposable pads when he saw his wife using unhygienic cloth during her menstruation. When he asked her why she was using a cloth, he was struck by her reply—that it was essentially a choice between affording milk for the family or sanitary napkins for herself. Muruganantham then began a journey to attempt to create the best possible sanitary napkin using affordable resources. Once he found a way to create the napkins with local wood fiber, he developed a machine that could produce 1,000 napkins each day. He works with NGOs, government loans and rural self-help groups to help women buy the machines at affordable prices.

This product has been successful at many levels. Jayaashree Industries has provided over 600 of these award winning machines to women in 23 states in India. By using local resources and local means of employment, use of this machine provides women with work and thus helps lower unemployment rates.

Arunachalam Muruganantham and Jayaashree Industries have shown people in India and around the world the importance of addressing menstruation as a health issue. More importantly, they have highlighted the ongoing, dire need for girls and women to have better access to safe, quality menstrual products. Through this innovation, one can hope that girls and women around the world will not be forced to hide in shame when they menstruate, but instead will live long, healthy and active lives.

Flickr photo via mckaysavage

Entry Comments

    • Oct 03
    • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    I think this is a very positive step, but one must also get to the issue at the mindset of the people living under this haze of uninformed doubts.  People shouldn’t be forced to live under such twisted and convoluted means of seeing the female sex.  Maybe they need to run programs to educate the general population to respect their women.

  1. I celebrate the concern shown by this man for woman’s human rights in India.
    Indeed the social taboo in India on menstruation is stifling and requires a huge and urgent change in mentality and awareness.
    However, to imagine that the only way forward is to make disposable sanitary napkins available cheap, is not taking account the fact that disposable napkins are a huge contributor to waste - management of which is a big problem all over the world.
    Furthermore, calling cloth ‘unhygienic’ is just plain wrong. Cloth napkins are a lot more comfortable to wear, easy on the environment and there is a movement of women all over the world moving towards cloth napkins for the actual hygiene (not to mention dignity) it provides as opposed to decaying blood in disposable plastic enclosed napkins.
    Imitating western countries’ mistakes is not the way forward for India or any other country. We need to use our own intelligence and indigenous wisdom too.

  2. Great topic yusuf, and brilliant article.

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