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Indian Entrepreneur Brings Dignity to Poor Women

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Driven by the revelation that his wife was torn between spending money on milk for the children and buying commercially manufactured sanitary napkins, Indian innovator and inventor Arunachalam Muruganantham embarked on a long and intensive journey to find a solution. His achievement – a simple machine – is bringing dignity to poor women and providing them with a much-needed income source.

This is a story of a man who was considered crazy for his persistence and made many personal sacrifices to achieve his goal. The innovation is both a technological and a business solution. Muruganantham has come up with a simple machine to manufacture affordable hygienic sanitary napkins for poor women. It works by turning the pulp of pine wood into the flat, white sanitary pads (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanitary_napkin) commonly used by women during their monthly menstruation. The machine’s simplicity means it can be expanded easily to other communities and is designed to fit well with the way women’s cooperatives work and help them earn an income.

Muruganantham sees it is a business model that “can deliver livelihood, hygiene and dignity to poor women, and help them strengthen society,” according to his website.

The manufacturing process produces the sanitary napkins in just five steps. This simple intervention is revolutionizing women’s health in India by giving them an alternative to using found and unhygienic rags every month when they menstruate.

It took Muruganantham four years of research to create a patented machine that sells for between US $1,332 and US $5,330. It can make 120 sanitary pads an hour. Each one sells for 10 rupees (US 18 cents). By comparison, the multinational company Procter & Gamble sells its product for 30 rupees (US 54 cents) a packet.

Two multinationals dominate the marketplace for sanitary napkins in India: Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, with the Stayfree and Carefree brands.

Muruganantham’s machine was awarded the best innovation national award by the former President of India, Prathiba Patil, in 2009.

Like many innovators and inventors, his work at first was little understood by others and meant he had to plough a lonely furrow. But his persistence paid off and is now receiving attention from countries across the global South.

Apart from its technological simplicity, the idea is to make it easy for women to form cooperatives and businesses to boost their incomes. India has seen the concept of so-called Ladies Self Help Groups (SHGs) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-help_group_%28finance%29) become more popular as a source of income. One of the problems they encounter is finding a successful business to undertake. The machine invented by Muruganantham is being seen as a good business model for the SHGs to follow. The key is the simplicity of operating the machine, the growing and stable market for the product, and its affordable and competitive price.

Typical businesses that can be set up using the machine can employ 10 women.

Muruganantham set up his main business, Jayaashree Industries (motto: ‘new inventions… small is beautiful’) (http://newinventions.in/aboutus.aspx), after his education was disrupted due to family problems and he took up a job in a welding shop.

At first, he had a difficult time convincing people of the utility of the machine. He enlisted his wife to help with the marketing of the new napkins to nearby women. He says the advantage of his business model is that it turns the making of the napkins into a sustainable, grassroots activity. It provides an essential commodity for poor women at an affordable price, removing middlemen and using a simple, non-chemical technology.

It also cuts down on expensive transport costs by keeping manufacturing local.

Over 225 machines have been delivered to 14 Indian states and also to Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Nepal and Bangladesh.

And while Muruganantham is focused on making the machine a success, he is already looking forward to working on his next big invention. The only question is: what will it be?

Resources

1) Women’s Health: A website packed with facts and advice from the UK’s National Health Service. Website: http://www.nhs.uk/livewell/women1839/Pages/Women1839home.aspx

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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Development Profile: UNDP In The Southern Gobi Desert | May-June 1998

By David South, Blue Sky Bulletin (Dalanzadgad, Mongolia), May-June 1998

Development Profile: UNDP in the Southern Gobi Desert

In late May UNDP visited its environment and poverty projects in Omnogobi or South Gobi on the border with China and in the heart of the Gobi Desert. The aimag (province) is home to 45,000 people spread over a territory of 165,000 kilometers. It is a harsh environment where temperatures can plummet to minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter and shoot up to plus 40 in summer. What is striking about the capital of Omnogobi, Dalanzadgad, is how well things are working. It is a garden capital – despite being in the desert the central boulevard is covered in trees – and trade with China has brought a prosperity for some herdsmen, many of whom buzz around the town on Planeta motorcycles. The offices of the Malchin television company are hidden by a bouquet of white satellite dishes – it is not an uncommon sight to see a ger with a satellite dish in South Gobi. 

“Dishing up development news on Mongolia”: a UNDP Mongolia Communications Office poster campaign from the late 1990s. Photo: David South.
In 1998 Der Spiegel’s “Kommunikation total” issue profiled the global connectivity revolution underway and being accelerated by the Internet boom of the late 1990s. It chose my picture of a satellite dish and a ger in the Gobi Desert to symbolise this historic event.

“The transformation of Mongolia from a largely rural nomadic society of herdsmen to a community dominated by the increasingly ultra-globalized city of Ulan Bator, where almost a third of the population lives, is nothing short of astounding.” The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change, Association for Asian Studies, Volume 18:3 (Winter 2013): Central Asia

Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine and is one of Europe’s largest publications of its kind. It chose my photo taken in the Gobi Desert for its profile of the Internet revolution in 1998.

English translation: “Total communication: the seventh continent – 
The cell phone society was just the beginning: Experts see a new continent emerging in the spheres of the Internet. The information elite live here, surrounded by PCs, pagers and power books. The multimedia industry is becoming the key industry of the 21st century – with serious consequences for society.” (http://t-off.khd-research.net/Spiegel/10.html)

Electricity in the air – 85 women discover the Women’s Development Fund

The Mongolian Human Development Report singled out South Gobi for having the highest poverty incidence in Mongolia (41.9 per cent). While this ranking is hotly debated by locals who say it is a statistical anomaly resulting from their low population, there is no question life is hard in the Gobi. 

In a crowded room in the Governor’s building, 85 of the poorest women in Dalanzadgad have gathered to hear about an innovative UNDP-initiated fund. The meeting, organised by the NGO the Liberal Women’s Brain Pool, is introducing the Women’s Development Fund. Many questions are asked as to why some of the women were passed over when the local government started distributing poverty alleviation funds. 

With the assistance of the British Government who donated Tg 12 million, these women are getting a chance. The Women’s Development Fund was founded in partnership with the Poverty Alleviation Programme Office to take account of the unique role women have in the prosperity of families. Support is key and the women will be assisted by community activists as they develop their project ideas and begin to implement them. In early June they started to receive funding for their projects. 

Note: This story was part of a series highlighting life and the state of human development in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert after the publishing of the country’s first human development report in 1997

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2020

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Women scientists prove potency of Mongolian beverage

By David South, Blue Sky Bulletin (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), Issue 10, February-March 1999

Horse mare’s milk, drunk by Mongolians for centuries, has been proven by a team of women scientists to be as healthy as many Mongolians believe. In a UNDP-funded project, women scientists from Mongolia, China and South Korea are exploring new ways to generate income through science. A joint Mongolian/Korean team confirmed the national wisdom of using mare’s milk for treating stomach and intestine inflammations, as well as tuberculosis, liver diseases and cancer. They say the frothy white milk is packed with nutrients and vitamins.

The UNDP-funded Subregional Project of Northeast Asian Countries on Gender Equality through Science and Technology started last March. A team of Mongolian women scientists in the project made the discovery when they explored the bio-chemical composition and immunological activity of Mongolian mare’s milk.

Mongolians have used mare’s milk as part of the traditional diet for centuries. During holidays many urban Mongolians drop in on their rural relatives for a drink of the elixir, saying it will help them to alleviate stress and to heal some chronic diseases. There are even cases of foreign tourists believing mare’s milk is the elixir of life, and will make them younger.

The researchers confirmed that the drying process of mare’s milk does not adversely affect its nutritional value, including proteins, lipids, vitamins, lactose and fatty acids. The mare’s milk was processed using spray drying and lyophilise methods. The research is making it possible to better preserve mare’s milk in the off-season.

The main goal of the project is to find new ways to generate income for poor women. In the case of mare’s milk, rural women will be able to turn to local manufacturers who can preserve the milk. The researchers say the South Koreans expressed keen interest in producing dry diet from mare’s milk.

The Blue Sky Bulletin newsletter provided timely and valuable updates on Mongolia in the late 1990s. In particular, it was able to highlight urgent health needs for a population undergoing extreme crisis resulting from food supply disruptions, loss of income, social distress (alcoholism, family breakdown etc.), sexually transmitted diseases, and extreme weather. Stories from the newsletter have been cited in many journals and books since 2000, and the high quality of its contributers is evident in their scholarship and career success since. An example is below:

Poor Nutrition Taking its Toll on the Health of Mongolians By Jacinda Mawson

Rickets very prevalent in Mongolia – 1998

Prevalence of rickets in Mongolia

Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr (1998) 7(3/4): 325-328
U Tserendolgor1 MD pubhealth@magicnet.mn, JT Mawson2 MA, AC MacDonald3 MSc and M Oyunbileg1 MD, PhD

“The high prevalence of rickets in Mongolian children is a serious public health concern. In addition to the adverse effects on growth, development and immune function, it is probably indicative of widespread subclinical vitamin D deficiency.”

Another beverage was catching the interest of Mongolians in the late 1990s: beer. 

From The Far Eastern Economic Review, February 18, 1999

A New Brew: As Mongolia changes under the influence of economic reforms, the country’s elite are trading fermented mare’s milk and vodka for a new status symbol: beer 

Story by Jill Lawless

Photo by David South

Jill Lawless has two websites about her book, Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia.

Designed in London, the first website for Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia launched in 2003.
The new brand site for Jill Lawless is currently under construction.

More of Jill Lawless‘ journalism for The Far Eastern Economic Review here: https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Far_Eastern_Economic_Review/SkuvAAAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=david%20south,%20Mongolian%20rock

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052

© David South Consulting 2021

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Counter Accusations Split Bathurst Quay Complex: Issues Of Sexual Assault, Racism At Centre Of Local Dispute

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), August 26-September 1, 1993

At the foot of Bathurst where the street disappears into the blue shimmer of Lake Ontario, a complex of apartment dwellers is bitterly divided over issues of public safety in a contest fraught with the tensions of race, class and gender.

Here in the seven-year-old neighbourhood of four co-ops and two municipally funded Cityhome buildings, activist opinion has hardened into factions with widely divergent views on one question – how safe is the Bathurst Quay community?

One group, an ad hoc collection of residents and concerned others is calling for an inquiry to investigate a list of alleged instances of sexual assault and harassment against women going back more than three years. Some of these say they cannot speak publicly for fear of retaliation by a coterie of violence-prone youth in the area.

And they say that they will not release the names of the alleged victims until confidentiality is assured by an independent inquiry.

But neighbourhood youth workers and some residents say this group hasn’t come forward with enough evidence to back their allegations, and that they are playing judge and jury. This collection of individuals, they say, are at best insensitive to the problems of Cityhome youth – many of whom are black – and at worst racist.

Forgotten youth

A year ago, Cityhome management commissioned a consultants report after residents reported the alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl, the presence of youth gangs with guns and drugs, and the sexual assault of young girls in the community centre.

The document, concluded in February, argued that the gang had disappeared, but admitted that it couldn’t come to any conclusion as to the validity of the accusations.

Some argue that the list of allegations is an over-reaction to the energies of under-class youth, and that what is essential is keeping communications with them open. Calling the police every time there is a problem, they say, only exacerbates tensions.

“My analysis of the situation is that there are a bunch of adults who have forgotten what it’s like to be youth,” says a community leader who prefers to remain nameless.

“There are youth who are angry, have done stuff, I see a lot of threatening happening, and it’s not by young black youth. It’s by articulate, middle-class white women. It’s sexist, ageist and racist.”

But members of the pro-inquiry group – many of whom belong to the safety committee of the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Association (BQNA) – say this point of view, which looks so politically correct, in reality favours young men over young women.

One resident who has been mintoring the situation and who fears physical assault if identified, says it’s important to link racial discrimination and sexual harassment, but women’s fears, she says, shouldn’t be sacrificed to make links with troubled youth.

“Community workers have made choices to privilege male youth,” the resident says. “Racial oppression and sexual oppression are bumping heads, but when young males engage in acts of crime they have to account for their actions. The safety group went many times to the community centre board about abuse in the neighbourhood, but the discussion was repressed. The racism charge is a silencing tool, preventing people from speaking out.”

Three arrested

Another resident of one of the Cityhomes, whose daughter was assaulted in the laundry room over two years ago, says she and other women have to deal constantly with taunting by local youth.

“We are known as the broad squad,” she says. “Three or four of us will defend each other in the courtyard. A lot are afraid to walk at night.”

Three of the youths accused of harassing tenants were arrested Sunday (August 22) for a hat-trick of armed robberies on Bathurst, according to Keith Cowling of 14 Division. Two are residents of Bathurst Quay, while a third, from nearby Maple Leaf Quay, regularly visits the area.

Pro-inquiry forces say they are stung by charges of racial unfairness, and say they want prominent womens’ and black community groups as investigators to ensure, as their pamphlet explains, an “anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-classist” resolution.

“It seems to me that whenever you say something, you are called a ‘racist’,” says Marlene Irwin, chair of BQNA and contact person for the pro-inquiry group.

“I feel we are doing male youth more of a favour (by calling for charges to be laid) than those protecting them for assault, harassment and break and enter,” she says.

Much of the attention of the ad hoc group focuses on the Harbourfront Community Centre (HCC) – a small, portable building, clean, unvandalized and decorated with posters depicting African-Canadian history.

Last month, a former youth worker who left the HCC circulated a hard-hitting document summarizing her experience at the centre. She says in it that there is an “apparent ‘normalizing’ of violence within the youth community that has been supported by various adults living and working in the community.”

She was, she says “physically assaulted at work. There was a general environment of abusiveness that frequently resulted in forceful behaviour.” There was, she says, daily physical, sexual and verbal bullying and manipulation by the young men towards the young women.

Washrooms and the office, she says, were dangerous places for young girls.

But HCC executive director, Leona Rodall, sitting in her office – a small janitor’s closet – with tears rolling down her face, denies that she allowed young women to be abused.

“The BQNA safety committee refused to meet with us,” she says. “We have nothing to hide, but what can we do if we don’t know what the incident is and when? Children’s Aid said there is nothing they can do without names and dates. If safety committee members have information of assaults by minors, they are liable to inform the CAS.”

The problems faced by youth in the community involve racism and poverty, and this means some aren’t Sunday-school types, she says.

Rodall supports an inquiry if it clears the air and investigates the validity of the alleged assaults.

HCC staff believe they are being singled out for blame for the community’s social problems because they are the only service there, and that some residents don’t like the mandate and approach of the HCC, where youth take priority and those charged with criminal acts are not excommunicated.

Youth worker Robin Ulster says some of the residents insult the youth. She argues that the conflict is a two-way street. She says the issue of public safety is being defined much too narrowly by those arguing for an inquiry.

“It should take into consideration the safety of youths who experience racism and poverty,” she says.

“All these incidents of young women being touched, or pushed into the washrooms, I haven’t seen it,” she says.

One black youth worker at the HCC who helps with the girl’s club, Tamara (she prefers not to use her last name), says rather than being harassed, the young women are very independent and confident.

Yuppie attitude

Residents are causing a self-fulfilling prophecy, by backing troubled black male youth against the wall. People who think the easy solution is to rely on police are expressing a “yuppie WASP attitude”, she says.

Black and white youth interviewed at the HCC say they don’t recognize the scenario the complainants paint. One of them, David, a 12-year-old who has lived in the community since its beginning seven years ago, says it is far safer than other Cityhomes he’s lived in, but “Some of them are prejudiced, nosy people.”

Toronto Councillor Liz Amer, who sits on the board of the HCC, says while she has helped women transfer out of the neighbourhood, the numbers have been no worse than in other Cityhomes.

“I know from time to time people do run into problems with neighbours,” says Amer. “The centre is trying to provide recreation services, not police.”

But Francis Gardner, chair of the tenant association at the Bishop Tutu Cityhome says many people are underestimating the menacing impact, particularly for women, of local teenage boys clustered outside the entrance.

“It’s easy to trivialize the loitering. But you have to step over their feet, and this lurking – they give young women the once over.”