Campaign: Global Citizen News

For a period revolution we’ll create a thousand Pad Men in 2018


Twinkle Khanna on the sets of Padman with Akshay Kumar and Arunachalam Muruganantham

I’ve watched the delightful trailer of Pad Man at least 30 times since it was released last month. I can’t get enough of the disarming charm exuded by Akshay Kumar in the trailer when he pats his back after wearing a sanitary napkin to keep it in place. This scene puts a smile on my face every time. How many times have we, women done that kind of patting to check if the pad is in in place.

Pad Man and Bollywood’s tryst with menstruation is a good sign of times to come where mainstream cinema gets more comfortable with taboo issues.

But years of cultural conditioning that treats a menstruating women as an ‘impure object’ cannot disappear with one film. Menstrual taboos are linked with religion, which makes them difficult to overcome. Even in our workshops we tread this territory with a lot of caution and respect for the cultural beliefs of the communities where we work.

Pad Man is based on the extraordinary journey of Arunachalam Muruganantham, inventor of a low-cost sanitary pad making machine and Founder of Jayaashree Industries.

I won’t repeat his story, as you can hear it from his inimitable TED talk here.

Muruganantham is a frugal innovator, i.e. a person who does more and better with less. The high cost of sanitary napkins in India made him research on his own for more than four years till he came up with his own design of a machine which could be operated on a dining table by anyone with basic training.

The National Innovation Foundation says: “Muruganantham has developed a set of four different small machines namely de-fiberation unit, core forming unit, sealing unit and UV sanitizing unit, which reduce the cost of production making Sanitary Napkins affordable to all. The production rate using manually operated machine set is 900 to 1000 napkins/day while with semi automatic machine set it is 3000 napkins/day (production efficiency may vary depending upon the skill & speed of operators). The machines are easy to operate and maintain.

However, Murugunatham’s machines and the low-cost napkins they produce have a mixed feedback. Like any other new frugal innovation there remains a lot of scope for improvement in technology and service delivery.


Pad Man poster

Innovations in menstrual hygiene management doesn’t stop at production of low-cost sanitary napkins. We have to also keep in mind the environmental impact of sanitary napkins. A commercial pad takes at least 700-800 years to decompose.

There are many social enterprises which have now come up with various versions of eco-friendly sanitary pads or reusable cloth pads, but they still have to improve to be an efficient alternative to commercial sanitary napkins manufactured by multinational companies.

We need more Arunachalams in our country, but for that we have to create period positive communities and homes which accept a man tinkering around with pads & menstrual hygiene products.

And for that we have to start including adolescent boys in period talk. In our organization, we have recently tried using craft as a way of initiating period talk in a mixed group of adolescent girls and boys.


Girls and boysat Peyarabagn made cloth pads together. Image:Rudrani Ghosh, Sikun Relief Foundation

At one such workshop in Peyarabagan, second largest slum in Kolkata, we initially faced hostile reaction from the older girls who didn’t want any boy in the room. But as the conversation progressed, the few boys lurking behind in one corner joined us. The girls didn’t protest and instead engaged in dialogue with them. Very soon, this group became busy like an ants colony. We were surprised to see boys diligently sewing the cloth cut outs we had given them and one them even embroidered the inner side of a pad with beautiful patterns.

I asked one of these young men what he is going to do with the reusable pad. His reply warmed my heart, “I’m going to gift this to my mother on her marriage anniversary.”

He was my Pad Man.

And, through our work we are creating taboo- free societies which nurture such Pad Men.

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