Category Archives: Campaigns and Events

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 listing of 2018 WASH conferences




  • May 28 – Menstrual Hygiene Day – Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is a global platform that brings together non-profits, government agencies, the private sector, the media and individuals to promote Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM).





USAID Global Waters team – Announcing the #WaterSecureWorld Photo Contest

Can you Picture a Water Secure World?

USAID’s Global Waters team invites readers, implementers, mission personnel, and other water professionals to help illustrate the next phase of USAID’s commitment to addressing the world’s water challenges as outlined in the newly released U.S. Government Global Water Strategy through photos.


Photo credits (clockwise, from top left): USAID/Indonesia, WADA Zambia, USAID/Ecuador, USAID/Lebanon, UNICEF/Kate Holt

USAID is contributing to the Strategy through its Water and Development Plan by providing 15 million people with sustainable access to safe drinking water services and 8 million people with sustainable sanitation.

The #WaterSecureWorld photo contest will help highlight the many different people, places, and activities that are part of USAID’s ongoing efforts to improve access to water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).

The winning photos will be announced and displayed with full credits on Global Waters on Medium and promoted on and

Read more.

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.

CLTS Knowledge Hub support to attend the 2018 WEDC conference in Kenya

The CLTS Knowledge Hub is pleased to announce that we have funding available to support a small number of early career practitioners and/or researchers to attend and present at the 41st WEDC International Conference 9-13 July 2018 at Egerton University, Nakuru, Kenya. clts

The funding will cover all costs related to conference registration, travel, accommodation and food. The theme of this year’s conference is Transformation towards sustainable and resilient WASH services.

Those selected will be expected to write a paper and present it at the conference, attend the CLTS Knowledge Hub’s pre-conference Sharing and Learning Workshop on July 8th, help support the Hub’s CLTS related stall throughout the week and write a blog about their experience and reflections from the conference.

For more information on criteria and how to apply, please see


SACOSAN 7: registration closes 15 December


South Asian Conference on Sanitation (SACOSAN),  a government led biennial convention held on a rotational basis in each SAARC country (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), provides a platform for interaction on sanitation.

SACOSAN VII will be held on 13-17 February 2018 in Pakistan, hosted by Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan.

The deadline for registration is 15 December 2017.

Below is an overview of the theme papers and country leads

Theme papers

Lead country

Sanitation as cross cutting (Health and Nutrition)


Climate Change/Environment and Sanitation


Sociology of Sanitation


Operation, Maintenance and Sustainability of WASH


Policy, Strategy and Sector Planning (institutional arrangements)


Human Resource Development for WASH


Accountability and Regulation

Monitoring and Evaluation

Pakistan or Sri Lanka? [conflicting info on website]

WASH Financing

Sri Lanka or Pakistan? [conflicting info on website]

For more information and updates go to:

Flushing Out Sanitation Market Failures – PSI

Flushing Out Sanitation Market Failures. by Aprajita Singh, John Sauer and Bikas Sinha, PSIIMPACT, November 2017. psi

A third of the world’s population — 2.4 billion people — live without sanitation facilities. Not having access to even a basic toilet exposes millions of men, women, and children to risks of morbidity and mortality.

During World Toilet Week, PSI is excited to announce its participation as a member of the Toilet Board Coalition, in large part because we see solutions to this overwhelming problem in the sanitation economy itself.

PSI has begun looking at market-based solutions in Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal, and India. In India, alone, 524 million people lack access to any kind of toilet. A problem of this scale necessitates a market system response with the government and the private sector complementing each other to address market failures preventing sanitation access.

Through the Supporting Sustainable Sanitation Improvements (3SI) project, launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and Unilever in 2012, PSI and partners found that 84% of households without toilets wanted to own one.

Here’s an insight into how the project identified and addressed critical market failures as well as provided solutions that worked in the state of Bihar.

Addressing a Fragmented Supply Chain

After conducting market research, the 3SI team learned that people wanted to purchase a toilet, but the components were too expensive. They found that 13-15 different actors existed in the sanitation value chain. Maneuvering this supply chain meant that a customer interested in purchasing a toilet was required to separately transact with multiple players. This made toilet construction a difficult and more expensive than necessary process. It meant a dramatically long wait times for customers to ultimately have functional toilets.

Read the complete article.