Arunachalam Muruganatham at his desk working away on his award-winning sanitary napkin machine.
Lack of toilets and water during a menstrual cycle can mean huge drawbacks for women and girls. They can’t travel or get their work done on a regular basis; families that rely on a woman’s income will often starve during those days when she probably needs it most. Young girls often drop out of school because they can’t use the bathroom when they need, and this has lasting repercussions. Sanitary Napkins have traditionally been out of reach and too expensive for the poor.
Bring in Arunachalam Muruganantham, a poor handyman from a village in India and a high school dropout who was brave enough to take on the project to address the issues his wife was dealing with. It nearly cost him his marriage and made him the laughing stock of his community, but he stuck to his principles. Today, he has pioneered cheap and effective sanitary napkins for the poor in India and potentially the world. Watch his amazing story in his own words here:
New “She Toilets” are causing quite an uproar in South India
In India, a country with one of the worst sanitation crises, the Hindu (the most respected newspaper in India), reports on a new initiative started by one of the small towns in South India to address the issue for women (women suffer the most with lack of access to toilets).
The “She Toilets”
The smart toilets will clean and sterilise their environments automatically. They have coin-operated sanitary-napkin-vending machines and an incinerator to burn used napkins. The toilets have baby stations to help mothers change the diapers of their children and Indian-style commodes.
Electronic display boards will tell users if the toilet is occupied or not. The toilet operation is remotely controlled. The smart toilets will send automatic SMS alerts to its controllers if the septic tank fills up or water supply is exhausted.
There are also security features to ensure the safety of the users. The agency has put up the “she-toilets” as most public toilets lack hygiene and pose health and safety problems to women users. The “she-toilets” have been designed keeping in mind the welfare of women commuters. They will be able to find the location of the nearest public e-toilet by searching on their mobile phones.
Sensor systems inside the toilet trigger its cleaning systems. The toilets will have washbasins, mirrors and health faucets. They will have FM radios and provisions to stop intruders.
Like everything else in India that is a public entity, I worry about the operation and maintenance, and long term use of this wonderful pilot project.
What if these women were watching a lecture by a professor from MIT or Harvard?? Its now a reality…
Now that opensource thinking has proliferated the technology space, a whole slew of products have emerged. Now all you need is an internet connection of some sort, a pair headphones and a phone with video capability and suddenly a person from Somalia or an innercity kid from Nairobi or South Central Los Angeles can be educated in the same class by a professor from Harvard.
Several years ago, MIT had decided to put all their courses up for free on something called OpenCourseware (OCW). I didn’t particularly enjoy the material on there, but I soon realized I was in the minority. During my travels, I came across several people from around the world, particularly parts where a lack of financial resources and good universities abounds, who had successfully used the material and even learned it better than me.
Since then, several others have emerged that can run the gamut of education from grade school (the Khan Academy,TED-Ed) to university education (EdX, the new MIT-Harvard initiative to replace OCW, Coursera from Stanford, Udacity), and beyond (Udemy).
I’m slowly wading my way through all the different programs, and trying to figure out what works for me. But its super cool that finally the developing world has almost equal access to anyone else anywhere else. Hurrah to the future of education. Now if we can just get more women access to this, and we will see the world change for the better.