“Pad Man is the first feature film with Akshay Kumar, Radhika Apte and Sonam Kapoor and that talks about women’s monthly period.” With barely any knowledge of Hindi, Muruganantham managed to effectively convey his thoughts to the team. ‘It helped that director Balki and the cinematographer PC Sreeram knew Tamil,’ he says. Despite his wide network of employees and volunteers, Muguganantham personally travels with his machines to train women to make sanitary napkins in regions affected by extremism. He rolls off names of villages that many may not have heard of — Dhamtari, Lakshmipuramu, Gajroli, Tehri… Many girls in such villagers don’t attend school due to lack of awareness and access to sanitary pads. Murugnanantham is changing that. This is the best thing about his innovation—that a village girl who shut herself at home simply because she menstruated, can finally go to school. In all these years of working on menstrual hygiene, what Muruganatham finds most difficult to deal with, is the superstition surrounding it. “Women in rural India have the strangest beliefs surrounding the monthly period,” he says. He is trying to break these by educating them. In a tribal village in the Nilgiris, women believed that if they used a sanitary towel, their eyes will be taken away. Muruganantham says, “A girl used it for two months and told her friends ‘Look, my eyes are still intact’.”
– Meet Muruganantham, the real Pad Man, The Hindu, February 9, 2018.
Madhu Krishna, Country Lead – Sanitation, India Country Office, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says:
There are 336 million women of reproductive age in India. Research tells us that 45% of them think that menstruation is not normal and 52% do not know anything about menstruation. These statistics are important because menstruation is a basic biological process and to manage it with dignity is the right of every woman. These statistics throw light on the hidden problem of awareness, which is unfortunately shrouded in social taboos and myths. This leads to lack of understanding, inadequate access to the right products or infrastructure, and an overall ecosystem wherein the problem cascades from awareness to use to access and ends at disposal.
The need of the hour is to break the silence around menstruation. We need to understand the acute disadvantage that women face while menstruating and account for it across the entire sanitation value chain.
The issue needs a holistic solution approach with a focus on all aspects—knowledge and information, ensuring access to products, adequate infrastructure and safe disposal. True success will be achieved when we establish menstruation as a normal process and get rid of all social taboos and myths which make it difficult for women to deal with such a basic, and significant portion of their life.
I remember my very first boss saying that to me when the company we worked for was undergoing massive restructuring within the various divisions. I ran into a group of people who were involved in realigning and restructuring the business operations. It felt like the staff had been thrown into nowhere and then dumped back out. However, where we landed was where we now worked. It was ultimately change for the better, but he was right. It was stressful. How are we supposed to respond to a world marred by taboo, disease, lack of understanding, inadequate access to the right products or infrastructure and hunger? We are supposed to be involved in security, transparency, team building and community values. And a number of NGOs are now joining together to advocate for better policies that will tackle the challenges that girls face holistically. Menstruation is one of the most crucial topics that has been discussed and advocated all over the world.
There is a strong movement of seeing it as a taboo in third world countries. This is a very important change factor which is dealt with in secrecy in many communities, cultures and peer groups. In countries like India, there are a high amount of restrictions and social stigma attached to it. In India, numerous restrictions are placed on womenfolk during menstruation, and menstruating women and girls are barred from participation in many activities. There is also a fact that adolescent girls suffer from myriad health problems associated with menstruation. There is an absence of adequate facilities and resources they require for menstrual hygiene.
This often poses as a challenge to adolescent girls in managing menstruation at school and home in various parts of the country. Women and girls in rural areas often resort to using unsafe and unsanitary toilets, and sometimes don’t have access to any kind of toilet. This is compounded by gender inequality, which excludes women and girls from decision-making processes and prevalence of taboos that seek to restrict women and girls from managing their menstruation safely in a supportive and healthy environment. Some of the solutions that are involved are training teachers, sensitization of parents and society through dialogue, mid-mass media communication campaigns, empower adolescents and youth, services at the workplace, challenging in changing social norms. The health of women and girls in the family is dependent foremost on proper sanitation facilities. Easy to use vending machines have been installed at various Anganwadi centres as part of the Udita Project where women and girls can easily access sanitary napkins at minimal cost.
To conclude, in India 23 million girls are forced to leave their studies due to either taboos associated with MHM or lack of facility for usage and safe disposal of sanitary napkins in their school premises. Menstruation in India has traditionally been associated with taboos and adolescent girls find it extremely difficult to even discuss the issue with their parents or elders in the family. We should talk about it explicitly. Inclusively in all the families and societies, without hiding it and without talking about it in code words. As Savita G Arun mentions in her excellent article “They Taught Us Everything About Menstruation In School, But Not The Boys”, “Every man should know what menstruation is – beyond the vague idea that it is just a 3-day women’s thing. As a fellow human being, it is really important for a man to know about the menstrual health of women. They should know how to treat her and more importantly how she wants herself to be treated at that time.
Menstruation is not a girl/woman thing. It is meant for everyone. Menstrual education and awareness are important for everyone irrespective of their gender.
If 10 is the age for girls to start knowing about menstruation, then at the same age boys should be taught about the science of menstruation and not as something that is not relevant to them.”