Tag Archives: sanitary pads

Is Bollywood’s Pad Man movie too good to be true?

Checking the facts and assumptions about menstrual hygiene in developing countries.

Mensrual hygiene painting-crop

Painting by students of the Dr. M.M. den Hertogschool, The Hague, on the importance of menstrual hygiene management and school WASH. Photo: IRC

March 8th was International Women’s Day. Which approach to menstrual hygiene management fits best with this year’s theme urging everyone to #PressforProgress on gender parity? Is it pressing for access to affordable menstrual products or is there more to it?

A few weeks ago, I joined a group of my female colleagues and family to watch “Pad Man”, the Bollywood film inspired by the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham.  He is an acclaimed Indian social activist and entrepreneur who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine. Muruganantham famously tested sanitary pads on himself, using a bladder with animal blood, while riding his bicycle. “Pad Man” is a feel good, uplifting movie. We left the cinema dancing to the tune of the Pad Man Song.

Too good to be true?

But then, a few days later an IRC colleague from India referred us to a blog that claimed to tell the “real story” about the man, who “shot to fame by selling shame”. The author, Sinu Joseph, is Managing Trustee of the Myrthi Speaks Trust, a Bengaluru-based social activist group working on issues including menstrual health and sanitation. Sinu had initially been involved in distributing Mr. Muruganantham’s sanitary pads until angry mothers complained that she was “trying to get rid of some cheap stuff by dumping it” on their daughters.

Fact check

Sinu counters several of the “facts” mentioned in “Pad Man”, which are also regularly quoted in the media. The first is that Indian women use ash, sand and husks as menstrual absorbents and consequently suffer “from Reproductive Tract Infections for want of a Pad”.  Sinu has found no evidence of this, both from her own experience and the literature. In fact, she says there is no evidence linking the use of menstrual products such as cloth to any menstrual disorder.

Second is the widely quoted statistic that only 12% of Indian women use sanitary napkins. Wrong again, says Sinu: the National Family Health Study of 2015-16 found that the real number is 57.6% , 48.5% in rural, 77.5% in urban areas. Finally, there is no evidence that girls in India drop out of school owing to menstruation and the lack of sanitary napkins. Similar findings emerged from a 2010 study in Nepal, which at the time was not welcomed by the pro-sanitary napkin development lobby.

A developing country problem?

The evidence Sinu refers to, comes from a review of 90 papers, which Myrthi Speaks conducted in 2016. The review not only dispels the “facts” mentioned above but also challenges the assumption that developing countries have a greater prevalence of menstrual disorders than in the West. In fact, the review found that the opposite is true. In developed nations, a higher percentage of adult women and adolescents suffer from heavy bleeding and painful or irregular periods than in developing countries.


So why has the real-life Pad Man attracted so much uncritical support? Is it because this unlikely hero, an uneducated man, took it upon himself to elevate Indian women from their shameful state? Indeed, most of the women in the Pad Man movie are portrayed as ignorant, led by superstition. In Sinu’s words, “shame has been sold to us in a nice package with celebrity endorsements”.

Glorifying traditional practices?

Sinu has been criticised for promoting the traditional practice of seclusion, which she says provides women who are part of joint families “privacy and comfort during menstruation”. A 2015 blog by Eco Femme, an Indian social enterprise producing washable sanitary pads, said that Sinu neglects those women who experience being excluded as degrading. Harrowing stories about the illegal Nepali practice of Chhaupadi, where girls are forced to spend their periods in cattle sheds, come to mind. The Pad Man film similarly condemns the segregation of women during menstruation.

Interestingly, Arunachalam Muruganantham, Sinu Joseph, Eco Femme, along with many development agencies all claim that they understand women’s needs. Whose view do you support? Or have they all got it wrong?

This blog was originally posted on the IRC website.

Update, 21 March 2018

On 16 March 2018 a TEDxKLETech talk by Sinu Joseph on the “Super science behind Menstrual practices” carried the following warning by TEDx “This talk contains several assertions about Ayurveda that are not supported by studies in gynecological medicine. While some viewers might find advice provided in this talk to be helpful as a complementary approach, please do not look to this talk for medical advice”.

The 10 Most Innovative Health Technologies Saving Millions In The Developing World

The 10 Most Innovative Health Technologies Saving Millions In The Developing World | Source: Medical Futurist, July 19, 2016 |

There are striking differences in the general social, economic or political background of the developed and developing country-groups, and developing countries are in dire need for creative and innovative medical solutions. Here are the 10 most innovative health technologies which could save millions of lives in these corners of the Earth. 102213836-padeducation1.530x298

Featured in this article are innovations on the manufacture of sanitary pads and water purification.

Read the complete article.

Two Indian sanitation social ventures receive US$ 50K in funding

A sanitary pad manufacturer and a human waste management company are among the nine winners of the Artha Venture Challenge (AVC) 2013. All of them will receive up to US$ 50,000 (INR 3 million) in funding from the Artha Platform subject to due diligence and investment approval.

Anandi sanitation pad

Photo: Aakar Innovations

Award winner Aakar Innovations is a Delhi-based start-up that supplies raw materials and sanitary pad mini-factories to women’s groups in rural areas. Costing US$ 5,000, each mini-factory can produce 1500-2000 pads per day, which is enough to provide work to 10-30 women. The biodegradable Anandi pads are  made from agri-waste. One pack of 8 pads sells for 20 rupees (US$ 0.33), said to be 40% less than branded mass-market products.

Banka BioLoo is a women led business from Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, providing sustainable solutions for sanitation and wastewater managment based on biotechnology. It manufactures, supplies and installs biodigesters for on-site treatment of human waste.

The Artha Venture Challenge (AVC) is funded by the Artha Platform and its founding organisation Rianta Philanthropy Ltd.  AVC 2013 was inspired by the UK Big Venture Challenge run by UnLtd UK.

The Artha Platform is a members-only online community and network linking impact investors/donors, social entrepreneurs and capacity building support organisations working on or in India.


  • Anand Rai, A look at the 9 social ventures that will each receive $50K in funding as part of the Artha Venture Challenge 2013, techcircle.in, 11 Apr 2014
  • Cut from a different cloth, Economist, 14 Sep 2013

Can you imagine not being able to go to school because you’re on your period?

Can you imagine not being able to go to school because you’re on your period? | Source/complete article: Women24, Feb 10, 2014.

Excerpt – Sue Barnes’ Project Dignity allows girls and young women in townships and rural areas to keep attending school while they’re menstruating. 

Sue Barnes displays the Subz panty pack she has designed for girls who cannot afford sanitary products. Picture: Marilyn Bernard

Sue Barnes displays the Subz panty pack she has designed for girls who cannot afford sanitary products. Picture: Marilyn Bernard

Sue Barnes, founder of Project Dignity, a remarkable initiative for South African school girls, has been recognised as the 2013 Clarins Most Dynamic Woman of the Year.

Barnes, from Cowies Hill in KwaZulu-Natal, founded the project after she learned how many girls in poor communities skip school while they menstruate.

Lacking money to buy sanitary products, many South African school girls don’t attend class during menstruation.

They also put themselves at risk of infection by using unhygienic alternatives to sanitary pads, such as newspaper or even sand and leaves. As a result, millions of girls miss up to a quarter of their school days.

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WEDC fact sheet – Menstruation hygiene management for schoolgirls in low-income countries

Instructions on how to make a basic cloth sanitary pad. From the WEDC factsheet on Menstruation hygiene management for schoolgirls.

WEDC has produced a usual fact sheet on the problems experienced by menstruating schoolgirls in low-income countries. Although its focus is predominantly sub-Saharan Africa, many of the issues raised are relevant to girls in most low-income countries, although there may be differences in popular practice and beliefs. The fact sheet also evaluates simple solutions to these problems including the use of low-cost sanitary pads, and suggests ways in which menstruation hygiene management (MHM) can be included in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. It considers how menstrual practices are affected by cultural beliefs and the lack of education both at home and at school.

Crofts, T., 2012. Menstruation hygiene management for schoolgirls in low-income countries. (WEDC fact sheet ; 7). Loughborough, UK, Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC). 8 p. Available at: <wedc.lboro.ac.uk/resources/factsheets/FS007_MHM_A4_Pages.pdf>

Somalia: sanitary pads project gives girls a boost

Earning about US$ 150 a month, 60 girls  aged between 16 and 22, are manufacturing sanitary pads for women living in refugee camps in Galkayo, central Somalia, IRIN reports.

The girls are enrolled at the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD) and the sanitary pad project, which started in 2009,  is supported by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, UNICEF and other partners.

“We started this project to show the girls that they can manage their periods and make sure they don’t miss classes or drop out”, said Hawa Yusuf Ahmed, the project coordinator.

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Uganda – Sanitary pad project “changes refugees’ lives”

KYAKA II, 9 March 2010 (IRIN) – A project using papyrus and waste paper to make sanitary pads has changed the life of Evelyne Banyamisa, who fled rebel violence in Bunia, north-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2003 when she was only 13. After leaving the DRC, Bamanyisa ended up in south-western Uganda where she has been living as a refugee. She was separated from her parents as they fled Bunia, and Banyamisa, her elder brother, a younger sister and a niece, arrived in the Kyaka II refugee camp where they lived together as a family until 2008 when her brother disappeared.

“I don’t know where he went; I have reported his disappearance but I have not so far heard anything; right now I am taking care of my sister, my niece and an orphan who I decided to take in as she did not have anyone to help her,” Banyamisa, now aged 20, told IRIN on 7 March. With the help of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Banyamisa managed to continue with her schooling while in Uganda, dropping out in the third year of secondary school. “I was idle for about two years with nothing to do here in Kyaka,” she said. “Fortunately, I got employed in June 2009 by Makapad where I am now the quality controller,” Banyamisa said. “I get a monthly salary of 80,000 shillings [US$40] which I use to sustain my family; where would I have gotten such money without Makapads?”

Set up in 2008 by a Makerere University professor, UNHCR and its implementing partner GTZ, the Makapads project has not only transformed the livelihoods of its employees, it has also made available sanitary pads for tens of thousands of refugees – most of them Congolese – living in settlements in south-western Uganda. Moses Kizza Musaazi, a senior lecturer at Makerere University, initiated the project to help disadvantaged girls access affordable sanitary pads.

The project later received support from UNHCR and GTZ, leading to the establishment of two sites in Kyaka II refugee settlement where the pads are produced, purchased by UNHCR and distributed among refugees. The Makapads are also produced in the capital, Kampala, at the faculty of technology at Makerere University. The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, buys the pads for distribution among female refugees living in settlements in southwestern Uganda. They are also available for sale at local outlets Inside the 209 sqkm Kyaka II refugee settlement, the Makapads project is run on two sites, employing dozens of refugees, mostly women. The site where Banyamisa is employed has 29 workers, 24 of whom are women. “The project has also attracted the interest of nationals living close to the refugee settlement. They want to be involved as they realize it is beneficial but right now we only have refugees working here,” Ibrahim Rumanyika, the project manager for the Makapads project in Kyaka II said. Rumanyika is a Congolese refugee who arrived in Uganda six years ago.

Production process – The production process begins with the collection and delivery of papyrus reeds, Rumanyika said. “Once we have the papyrus, it is peeled, cut up into small pieces and ground into a powdery form,” he said. “Then we sieve it to remove the coarse particles. This is then taken to another container filled with water, where it is mixed with waste paper pulp; we get the paper from UNHCR in Kampala. “From there, we place the mixture on drying racks; it takes a few hours to dry when the weather is OK, on rainy days we hardly dry anything,” Rumanyika said. “Thereafter we take the dried sheet into the production room where it is softened and smoothed, and cut into pad-sizes; then combined with a paper-only dried pulp [which is softer], packed in soft outer material, sealed and sterilized.” With just two buildings and 50 drying racks lined up outside, the project runs on solar-powered electricity. “Even sterilization becomes a problem because we depend on solar power to do it; sometimes we do not produce as much as the day’s capacity because of this,” he added.

On average, the site makes at least 3,000 packages a day – each with 10 sanitary pads. “UNHCR buys the pads from us for distribution among the refugees here in Kyaka and Nakivale settlements but we also make pads for sale in local retail outlets,” Rumanyika said. The crushed pulp from papyrus reeds is mixed with waste paper before being sun-dried on racks outside the Makapads plant at Kyaka II refugee settlement Most of the equipment used is locally produced, Rumanyika said, with only the adhesive tape and soft outer cover imported.

He said a Makapad package retails at 1,000 Uganda shillings [US$0.50) whereas the prices for the other varieties on the market start at 2,000 shillings [$1]. Banyamisa said her life and that of other refugees using the pads has changed for the better. “Previously, many of us used cloth or toilet paper; the problem with the cloth was that one may not have soap with which to wash it, sometimes water is hard to come by, so you could end up with a bad smell as a result,” she said. “Since the Makapads were introduced, the days of periods being depressing are gone; the only problem right now is the pads are too thin for those with heavy flows. I think we should make some pads specifically for such women.”

Expansion plans According to UNHCR, the Kyaka II Makapads project has the potential to become self-sustaining. At the moment, the agency supplies it with the waste paper which is mixed with the papyrus to make the pads. Needa Jehu-Hoyah, associate external relations officer for UNHCR Uganda, said: “The Makapads project is one of the most beautiful examples of refugees coming together to respond to the needs of women and children in a manner that sustains their dignity. We recently reached the 50 percent mark in the procurement of Makapads for female refugees of reproductive age in the refugee settlements.” Maria Mangeni, UNHCR’s Makapads expert, said due to increased interest in the project, UNHCR was considering plans to replicate the project in other refugee settlements in the country.

Source – IRIN News