The Bollywood film breaking the taboo around periods

From BBC - January 18, 2018

The world's first feature film on periods is set to be released in the UK. Can a comedy help break the taboo of female menstruation?

It's a scene that captures the 20-year struggle by a poor school drop-out from southern India to buy sanitary pads for his wife - and ended up changing the lives of millions of women around the world.

Arunachalam Muruganantham - played by Bollywood star Akshay Kumar - cycles through his local village waving cheerfully.

Unbeknown to his neighbours, he is testing the effectiveness of his new invention by wearing pink pants and a home-made sanitary pad which is slowly filling with goat's blood from a football bladder tied around his waist.

But behind the laughter of the comedy- Pad Man - is the true story of how Muruganantham invented a low-cost machine that revolutionised women's healthcare.

It started in 1998 when newly married Muruganantham noticed his wife Shanti hiding something.

"It was a nasty rag cloth - she was going to use it during her menstruation. I would not even use it to clean my vehicle," he tells the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

"So I decided to gift her a sanitary pad. The shopkeeper gave it to me as a smuggled product. Out of curiosity I opened the packet. The cotton product was sold for four rupees (4p) - 40 times what it cost to make."

Muruganantham, now 55, threw himself into researching a cheaper alternative.

Period poverty leaves an estimated 300 million women in India without access to sanitary products - making them vulnerable to disease, infertility and even death.

He began analysing pads from Western companies, canvassing opinions - and used napkins - of female medical students and, finally, tested his inventions out himself.

"I wanted volunteers to try my new pads and give me feedback - but not even my wife was ready."

It all came at a cost.

"My wife left, mother left. The whole village thought I had a sexual disease," he explains.

But he persevered, and in 2006 launched not-for-profit Jayaashree Industries, which supplies machines making Muruganantham's sanitary pads at cost-price to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and women's organisations across India.

Today it reaches an estimated 40 million Indian women, and there are plans to take the machines to Kenya, Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Bangladesh.

Twinkle Khanna, Pad Man's co-producer, spotted his story onlineand says she was immediately gripped by the magnitude of whathe had achieved.

"I thought this was a remarkable story which really needed to reach every household in India, and globally, because I think the taboo around menstruation is not just in India, it's a global problem."


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