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It all started on a hot summer day near the southern city of Coimbatore in India. Struck by his wife’s statement that she could either have milk or sanitary napkins, Arunachalam Muruganantham, a man from a poor household who had only gone to school till the age of 14, decided to do something. He wanted to get to the bottom of why women in his community were using rags instead of sanitary towels, rags so dirty, that he would not even use them to clean his scooter. Was this a financial problem? Or one that occurred due to the lack of information about women’s hygiene? The answer was both: after doing some informal research in his village, he found that less than one in ten women were using sanitary napkins. They were expensive and women could not afford them, and they also did not know the adverse health consequences of what they used instead, sometimes sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash and mud.
India’s Rafiq Pathan stands at the forefront of efforts to end discrimination towards girls, and symbolically plants a fruit tree every time a girl is born. He treads on the difficult path where few men have gone before, undertaking grass-roots advocacy to change the hearts and minds of parents, many of whom value boys more than girls.