The ‘Padman’ Effect: Indian men tackling menstrual health taboos head-on

In India, the story of ‘Padman’ is nothing short of a legend.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, a man from Coimbatore, was responsible for stirring a social revolution of sorts. He got the ball rolling two decades ago when he began working on a prototype for a sanitary pad. Yes, the same menstrual hygiene product that is easily available in cities and metros.

Arunachalam Muruganantham at Time100 gala

In rural India, however, menstrual health is still a closed-door conversation. Only 12 percent of India’s menstruating women are believed to be using sanitary pads, according to an AC Nielsen study titled, Sanitary Protection: Every woman’s health right.

Muruganantham, better known to the world as ‘Menstrual Man’ and the social entrepreneur who broke the period taboo, wanted to change this. He started working on various alternatives and after a series of failures, came up with an easy-to-use machine that could produce low-cost sanitary napkins for Indian women.

Undoubtedly a story worth telling the world, Muruganantham has since come to be known as India’s Padman. His innovation has been covered widely by both national and international media and his life has also been turned into a now National Award-winning film. But more importantly, A. Muruganantham’s journey has inspired a slew of male entrepreneurs to take up the cause of menstrual health and tackle the issues and taboos surrounding it.

Here’s a look at some of them.

Shashwat Diesh and Aqib Mohammed, Co-founders of Azah

Shashwat Diesh and Aqib Mohammed, Co-founders of Azah

Friends-turned entrepreneurs Shashwat Diesh and Aqib Mohammed ventured into the field of menstrual health sometime around May 2018. Inspired by the story of Muruganantham and the personal accounts and struggles of women in their life, the duo set out to understand the utility of products currently available and what caused rashes, itching, etc.

The entrepreneurs also spoke to gynaecologists and other experts to identify skin-friendly materials and how to design and manufacture the pad in a scalable way. The result is Azah, a premium feminine hygiene brand whose ultra-soft organic sanitary pads cater to the needs of quality-conscious urban consumers.

Azah products

“Our pads are not 100 percent biodegradable now because the bottom most layer is plastic, which is not disposable, but we are working on it,” quips Shashwat.

Ankur Goyal, Founder of &Me

Ankur & Sheta, Founders of &Me

Ankur Goyal, a Stanford Business School graduate, became acutely aware of women’s health issues when his mother was diagnosed with osteoporosis. It is a condition where one’s bones become fragile and porous, and which, incidentally, plagues more women than men.

Keen on finding a solution, Ankur began researching the disease and various other issues, which led to the launch of &Me, a women’s health and wellness brand, which he incepted with Sheta Mittal.

With more than one lakh customers and a presence in over 600 retail stores across five Indian cities, the brand caters to women’s functional needs across menstrual health, fitness, beauty, and wellness. In addition, &Me launched India's first range of PMS drinks, which help women during their pre-menstrual symptoms – bloating, cramps, and mood swings.

Rajendra Joshi, Founder of RI Nanotech

Even as a slew of brands innovate and enterprises to make menstrual hygiene more affordable and feasible in India, a huge concern still remains – the environmental effect of used pads. To combat this challenge, Haldwani-based RI Nanotech has come up with a biodegradable alternative to sanitary napkins, called the Florish Pads.

The team behind the eco-friendly sanitary pad at RI Nanotech

These pads are made of natural ingredients including bamboo, banana cotton, and biodegradable sap, which makes them anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. One of its biggest USPs, according to Rajendra, is that Flourish pads contain Graphene Oxide, which has a capacity of holding five times more menstrual blood than regular pads.

It not only makes the pad odour-free and breathable but also biodegradable, meaning it can be converted into fertiliser within three to six months.

Chitransh Saxena, Founder of My PadBank

Among the many entrepreneurs who were inspired by the Akshay Kumar-starrer Padman, was UP native Chitransh Saxena. The entrepreneur, inspired by Muruganantham’s journey to help women from the economically weaker section of the society, launched My PadBank in June 2018. What started out with his solo efforts, soon became a team of 15 individuals including corporates and students working part-time to help make a difference in the rural regions.

Chitransh Saxena with the villagers

Today, Chitransh is not only playing a huge role in shattering the stereotypes surrounding menstrual health but through PadBank, is also donating sanitary napkins among the underprivileged in rural areas.

The PadBank organises awareness programs on menstrual hygiene, at the end of which passbooks are given to women and girls who cannot afford a sanitary pad.

Anurag Bohare, Co-founder of Rag Innovations

In the Manepura village of Madhya Pradesh’s Bhind district, Anurag Bohare, Co-founder of Rag Innovations, is leading a social revolution of his own. Along with this brother Virag and Co-founder Palak Tiwari, the entrepreneur has set up a 5,000-square feet manufacturing setup here, producing thousands of sanitary napkins using a unique machine that reduces the cost of production.

Powered by solar energy, this machine is capable of producing 2,000 to 5,000 sanitary pads per day (in eight to 10-hour shifts). And women can buy these pads for just Rs 1.5 per piece.

“I felt like the Padman’s machine was good as a first-level low-cost machine. However, it could be further improved,” says Anurag, recalling how he began to research to simplify the process.