Category Archives: South Asia

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.

A systems approach to sanitation – iDE Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a global success story in sanitation, reducing open defecation from 34% in 1990 to less than 1% today. But despite this initial progress, nearly 40% of the country still lacks access to improved sanitation.

To tackle Bangladesh’s sanitation problem iDE takes a comprehensive systems approach to increase improved sanitation coverage.

iDE’s interventions facilitate different actors in the market system, leveraging existing skills and resources, building connections from the local to the national level, and coordinating across public, private, and development sectors to create a complete ecosystem that enables the sustainable, inclusive delivery of improved sanitation products and services.


Sanitary Napkin PadBank: Here’s How Some Women Are Pushing The Menstrual Hygiene Cause

Sanitary Napkin PadBank: Here’s How Some Women Are Pushing The Menstrual Hygiene Cause. Banega Swachh India, March 7, 2018.

From an MLA initiating India’s first sanitary PadBank to a 16-year-old coming forward to help the girls of her age, PadBanks being run by different women are emerging to be an important mechanism to provide sanitary napkins to women without means. Here are five such PadBanks

Move over PadMan, PadBanks are now what many are adopting to reach out to women with no access or awareness about menstrual hygiene. These PadBanks retain the basic functionality of a bank, but instead of money these dispense sanitary pad, either from free or charge a discounted rate.

While some women are providing sanitary napkins at a cheaper rate, others are breaking the myths and taboos associated with menstruation by making people aware. These women are not only challenging the societal norms, but have also made it their mission to raise the level of menstrual hygiene in Indiaindia

In India, 88 per cent of menstruating women do not use sanitary napkins. Be it ignorance or lack of affordability, the fact is that majority of women in India rely on unhygienic alternatives during periods.

In a bid to change this reality, women in India are providing sanitary napkins to less fortunate women and girls.

Read the complete article.

New call for researchers (WSUP – Urban Sanitation Research Initiative)

Analysis of citizen and decision-maker attitudes to freshwater pollution in Bangladesh cities as a basis for more effective regulation.

This research project is jointly commissioned by the REACH global research programme (led by Oxford University) and the Urban Sanitation Research Initiative, (a 2017-2020 research programme led by Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor, WSUP). The project will be managed by the Urban Sanitation Research Initiative team with single point-of-contact, but should aim to align with the broad vision and specific requirements of both research programmes.

The research will investigate citizen and decision-maker attitudes to pollution of watercourses in urban environments in Bangladesh, and attitudes towards regulation to reduce such pollution. We require detailed consideration of two specific types of pollution, and of their associated regulation, namely a) faecal contamination arising from widespread discharge from septic tanks, pit latrines, and hanging toilets to surface drains and water bodies and to subsurface water bodies, and b) industrial discharge to surface and subsurface water bodies. However, we would expect detailed consideration of these specific issues to be embedded within a wider framework of analysis of urban freshwater pollution, and its regulation, in Bangladeshi cities.

Bids due: Before 1700 (UK) Tuesday 13th March 2018

Focus country: Bangladesh

Maximum budget: GBP 80,000

For more information and details on the bidding process, see the Urban Sanitation Research Initiative website (‘Current research calls’).

Bollywood’s ‘menstrual man’ movie targets Indian taboo

Bollywood’s ‘menstrual man’ movie targets Indian taboo. Asia Pacific News, February 7, 2018.

MUMBAI: A Bollywood movie about an inventor who created a revolutionary machine that makes cheap sanitary pads hits screens this week, challenging taboos surrounding menstruation in socially conservative India.


Indian actor Akshay Kumar stars in ‘Pad Man’, a Bollywood movie about an inventor who created a revolutionary machine that makes cheap sanitary pads. (Photo: AFP/Sam Panthaky)

Arunachalam Muruganantham is nicknamed India’s “menstrual man” for transforming the lives of poor women forced to use items like old rags, sand and leaves during their periods.

He has been lauded by India’s government and is now getting the star treatment with Bollywood A-lister Akshay Kumar portraying him in “Pad Man”, releasing on Friday (Feb 9).

It is the latest socially conscious movie to come out of a film industry known more for producing complex love stories featuring handsome heroes and elaborate dance routines.

Read the complete article.

Update from the South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN VII)

Update from the South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN VII)

Conference Dates – 10-12 April 2018 in Islamabad with the 13th April being reserved for a field visit. SACOSAN-CALL-FOR-PAPERS

  • 30 January – acceptance of abstracts (300 words)
  • 9 February – call for full papers (Following review by technical committee)
  • 9 March – submission of full papers

Concept notes for side events should be submitted by 9th February for consideration.

We would like to encourage people to visit the website and register for the event so that the visa application processes can be facilitated in a timely ,manner.

IHUWASH Accelerator India seeks high impact urban WASH innovations

India IHUWASH sanitationIndia IHUWASH hygiene

The IHUWASH Accelerator India program identifies and supports high-impact WASH business innovations to work with the city governments of Faridabad, Udaipur and Mysuru to solve pressing urban WASH problems.  Submissions should focus on one or more of the following urban WASH innovations:

  1. Safe drinking water
  2. Last-mile water distribution
  3. Recovering water supply costs
  4. Decentralised and improved sanitation solutions
  5. Improving public/community toilets
  6. Sustainable faecal waste treatment
  7. Hygiene behaviour change

Benefits for the selected innovations include opportunities to:

  • Roll out small-scale pilots that demonstrate your WASH innovation to governments
  • Work directly with key government officials, sector experts and impact investors
  • Showcase your innovation through a high visibility nation-wide program
  • Raise funds from private sector companies and impact investors

More program details are available here. Applications for the program are now open and they close on 22nd Jan 2018.

Please apply to the program (or) help identify relevant WASH business innovations by nominating them to


IHUWASH is a collaborative initiative between NIUATaruIRC and Ennovent. The three year project is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and aims to improve the performance of urban WASH programs for India within a collaborative framework. Under IHUWASH, national and city-level Innovation Hubs are being established to work closely with the Faridabad, Mysuru and Udaipur city governments along with other national level WASH stakeholders.

The IHUWASH Accelerator builds on the experience of the 2016 Sanitation Innovation Accelerator in which Taru, IRC and Ennovent were also involved.