Monday, December 04, 2006

The business of dignity

I had visited my friend Vasudha on Saturday and in the course of our discussions I mentioned that one of my long-standing wishes was to start manufacturing low cost sanitary napkins, for the poor and low-income women of India.

In India, even today, the overwhelming majority of women use old cloths / rags during their menstrual periods. A small section of the urban population uses one or other of the the wide range of products available in the market. But there is no product that specifically targets the poor and low-income.

The overwhelming majority of women in India face great hardships and indignity, besides health risks, because they cannot afford the available sanitary napkins.

Traditional practice is a factor, but it is affordability which is the key issue.

As I see it, sanitary napkins could be sold at a very cheap price through the huge (govt) public distribution system. If I was a minister, I would also study and work for free distribution of sanitary napkins to the poorest.

The key challenge is to design an appropriate product and define the manufacturing technology and business model. I would prefer localised production across the country, with poor women in villages and urban slums securing gainful employment from this.

The environmental dimension also needs to be kept in mind. I think some of the products now in the market may not be bio-degradable. This is not yet an issue in public policy. If the overwhelming majority of Indian women (and especially in rural areas) started using sanitary napkins, then there would be a huge new problem of disposal.

Revisiting this idea, I once again got very excited about this. Also present in the discussion was Padmaja, a garment designer, who too was attracted by the idea. So I am hopeful that something materialises!

Human dignity - is a sacred goal, a fond hope. But to realise this - so much is needed. Enterprise, knowledge, ingenuity, technology, and capital have ultimately to be harnessed to the normative vision. So many utterly useless products are designed, produced, marketed and advertised. But my wonderful country has still not been able to come up with this very basic necessary product, that will bring dignity to our women.

Read the article (Nov 2004) "Menstrual Hygiene and Management in Developing Countries: Taking Stock" by Sowmyaa Bharadwaj and Archana Patkar.


Vincent said...

Is there no end to the surprises you generate, or the social concerns which you embrace? If I had not met you, I would think you were a team and not just one person.

Manasi said...

YOu make a very valid point here. ANd kudos to coming up with the idea. I have always wondered what those women do and left it at thinking that they must be having some mechanism. At some point i even reached the conclusion that those women have so many kids just to keep them from the mensturing.

గిరి Giri said...

I tell you, you can start your manufacturing right away; just set up a soft cotton cloth manufaturing unit

Tradition might be good here - (i'm a guy) and am definitely not an expert but IMHO i think the feel of sanitation that chemically loaded napkins afford isn't what the lower class people need.

Instead, just push government to make "usage of clean cloth each time" popular, the way they made contraceptives popular.

Anonymous said...

A good thought. Somethings we take so much for granted!

rama said...

Thank you friends for your visit and comments!

You are generous with your compliments Yves!

Manasi: going on having kids so as not to menstruate! Like the poor go on procreating because they have no other form of entertainment. What a gulf separates "us" from "them"! Is the implicit violence of such attitudes and this alienation fair?!

Giri: I agree, the best option might be to promote and make available clean old cloths. This could be available as a low cost product to save women the trouble of finding cloths. I do know that in poor households, this can be difficult.

I heard that an American tampon / sanitary napkin manufacturer had put into the product a chemical that induced greater bleeding - so that more would be sold.

Biodegradability is also a factor as I mentioned. "Sophisticated" products available in urban India are not bio-degradable.

Best, rama

Anonymous said...

I am one of those that used old cloths/rags in my childhood. Sanitary napkins were too expensive for my parents to afford, so it was used only during travel etc. I was in college when I started using disposables on a regular basis. Low cost clean cloths is a great env friendly idea. Thanks!

Vivek Menon said...

I came across this blog while i was searching for material on my marketing presentation on increasing penetration of sanitary napkins in rural areas...i also had found some info on low cost sanitary napkin manufacturing machine info...
maybe its useful for u to contact this company or the entrepreneur who invented the machine...Hope this info is useful to ur cause...Cheers

Anonymous said...

Hullo Vivek, thanks very much for your comment. I shall follow this up. I would be happy to hear from you about your research findings and perspective.



Anonymous said...

We could supply Sanitary Napkins at the rate of Rs.1.25 per pc packed in a attractive packing of 6 per pack. We ar etrying our best to approach NGOs to work with us. IF anybody is interested pls mail us at

Anonymous said...

Hi - visit

this NGO has been making an effort to collect used clothes, clean /wash them and distribute amongst the poor . Apart from clothes, they also focus on san naps for poor women. i was really touched by this effort. i have seen their streetplays etc in Delhi. have a look - this will definitely give you ideas on how you can make a difference

Anonymous said...

Sanitary Napkins is not expensive. A good quality product can be made anddelivered at not more than Rs 1. per pc.

We are a mfr in Nepal of pulp based sanitary napkins and we indeed supply to the rural areas of Nepal at very very low cost. We even take health and hygiene classes at schools to teach about the importance of maintaing proper hygiene during periods. But the cost involved is so high that it is not sustainable for us. If an NGO or a government body can take up the distirbution with awareness programs it would be very prodcutive.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks friends for your comments and suggestions. I hope to follow up on this. Let us hope something positive emerges!



NG said...

pls go through the above website.......i guess it'll answer some of ur concerns........also for further query u can can get in touch with Mr. Anshu Gupta (ashoka fellow)...........goonj (based out of delhi) won world bank's award for the same initiative.... :)


i have a very cheap priced sanitary napkins. That will be for around 80 paise\pc. i am ready to supply it to you as much quantity as you want.

Since it is for a social cause, i will even give heavy discounts on bulk purchase.

Please contact me on +9821270024 for more details

Anonymous said...

Now any orural women can make low cost sanitary napkin at home---

Idea in more depth:

A.Muruganantham (46) has designed, created, tested and implemented a sanitary napkin-making machine that operates on a small scale. Contrary to a large-scale production model which requires Rs.3.5 Crores as initial investment,Muruganantham’s sanitary napkin-making machine can be made available to a buyer for approximately Rs.65,000. This allows smaller players to adopt the business model propagated by him, and thus generates more employment and wealth in the most neglected sections of society.

More specifically, an empowerment forum – such as a Self Help Group or a women’s group – can invest in a sanitary napkin-making unit to create a business that employs up to ten women.
The new invention is capable to make 120 napkins per hour

1) Builds a viable and sustainable enterprise that can be run efficiently by the stakeholders at the grassroots.
2) Delivers an essential commodity – the sanitary napkin – to poor women at affordable rates without compromising on the raw material used (which is not the unviable cotton) or quality of the product as compared to the multinationals. This is an extremely crucial development and can be viewed as a breakthrough in positive social engineering.
3) Reduces the players involved in the supply chain – the third person to handle the product (from its inception) is the consumer.
4) Thereby makes optimal use of the micro-credit generated by a community.

.One sentence best describes About the idea?

Sanitary napkins produced in a “Small is Beautiful” model can deliver livelihood, hygiene and dignity to poor women, and help them strengthen society.

What problem or issue does the idea address?

1) Millions of women around the world cannot afford sanitary napkins, mainly because they’re manufactured using expensive machinery and thus priced at a premium. Such women resort to an older and cheaper alternative – a piece of cloth or rag. This is an unhygienic alternative and can cause vaginal infections, skin irritations and embarrassing stains in public. But by reducing the unit price of a napkin, Muruganantham’s model enables women to switch over to napkins – dignity must never be unaffordable.
2) A light-weight and voluminous product like the sanitary napkin introduces high transportation cost. This model allows local production and thus solves the problem.
3) Muruganantham’s model addresses the issue of rampant unemployment amongst the poor in rural, urban and semi-urban areas of all developing nations.
4) Overall, Muruganantham’s model offers livelihood, hygiene, dignity and empowerment to women all over the world. And it does so using a sustainable business framework.

Muruganantham has obtained a patent for his innovation Over 125 such machines have been delivered which are now functioning in 14 states of India also he is getting enquiry by various countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya Uganda, Nepal and Bangladesh, but he does not want to make it a commercial affair though only the technology would be passed on to them.

For More Clarification:

A.Muruganantham, 577, KNG Pudur Road, Somayampalaym,
Coimbatore 641018 Cell: 92831 55128, 94422 24069







Vidya said...

Came here through a variety of links - I hope this venture goes well; it is an important and worthy cause. Best of luck to you.

pal said...

Excellent!! Absolutely fantastic. Came here via the Ultraviolet website. All the best for your venture!!! I'm wondering how I can contribute to this worthy cause!! said...

This bleaching process creates dioxin, a highly toxic pollutant that can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, hormone dysfunction, endometriosis, and even cancer. Conventionally grown cotton used for the pad contains pesticides and herbicides which stay on the cotton long after it has been harvested.
sanitary cotton pads