*Originally posted on Her Campus George Mason*
Menstruation is like Voldemort in many parts of the world: everyone knows it exists, but it must not be named. While this may be changing in the western world, there are countries that still consider periods a taboo to speak about.
For women, this means isolation. The social stigma surrounding periods makes it impossible to have open discussions. As a result, young women and girls lack a basic understanding of how to deal with their periods. The numbers are staggering, especially in India. India Times approximates around 200 million girls in India that lack awareness of menstrual hygiene. Furthermore, 70% of all reproductive diseases in India stem from neglecting menstrual hygiene.
In addition to awareness, there has been a serious shortage of availability and affordability of pads. Our culture is happy to speak about and objectify the parts of the body that can be sexually consumed, but the moment we talk about something that is not for the enjoyment of others, like a period, everyone becomes deeply uncomfortable.
Luckily, an Indian high-school dropout decided to revolutionize menstrual health in India. “It all started with my wife”, tells Arunachalam Muruganantham. Shortly after being married, Muruganantham noticed his wife hiding a set of dirty rags. He later discovered that she used these during menstruation. Like thousands of women in India, she couldn’t afford sanitary pads.
According to The New York Times, nearly 88% percent of women in India must resort to ash, newspapers, dried leaves and even sand during periods. This led Muruganantham to find a solution. And in 2010, he did.
Muruganantham manufactured a machine that mass-produces pads at a fraction of industry prices. These machines are deliberately kept simple so they can be owned and operated by rural women. In a country where 1 in 5 girls drop out of school due to poor menstruation hygiene, Muruganantham’s machine is saving millions of lives.
Andrea Donsky, author of Label Lessons explains mainstream American companies use harmful toxins like dioxins and chlorine bleach in their pads to lower production costs. Basically, each conventional pad contains the equivalent of about four plastic bags. Now I know what Katy Perry meant when she asked, “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?” Yes, I do Katy. In fact, I feel like four.
While well-intended, Muruganantham’s machine highlights centuries of continued patriarchy. The success of his invention validates the idea that only men can bring about change. Women have made calls for reform within women’s hygiene for decades, yet only when a man decided to speak did they see change. Women’s struggles have been concealed until they were made relevant by men.
Today, tampons and pads are taxed in most states, while adult diapers and Viagra are not. Men can walk into any bathroom and access all of the supplies they need to care for themselves. Women, however, can’t even have a $1 pad. Furthermore, in most schools, girls have to trek to the nurse’s office to ask for a pad or tampon, as if menstruating is an illness rather than a natural function.
For something that has over 5,000 slang terms, like shark week, Bloody Mary, red wedding, menstruation is one of the most ignored human rights issues across the globe—affecting everything from education and economics to the environment and public health.
Find full speech here.