Sanitree is a social enterprise looking to tackle period poverty and the social stigma surrounding menstruation in a sustainable, collaborative and ethical way.
There is a massive wealth and geographical divide in terms of using safe and hygienic sanitary products; a basic human right which should be afforded to all menstruating people equally. We envision menstruation becoming an experience that is both empowering for all, and kind to the planet.
Our social enterprise works in two locations, Jaipur and Edinburgh. Jaipur is home to our Her Shakti Centre, where a team of 7 local women are employed to produce our reusable cloth pads. The Her Sakti Centre was founded by our director Ishu from the Jeevan Arth Foundation, and it is more than just a workspace; holding weekly self-defence, yoga and English language classes run by locals. Our beneficiaries can therefore empower themselves and their community in a space that is dedicated to their ventures. The centre is the beating heart of our enterprise, and it is where we aim to break down menstruation taboos through education and awareness training.
Edinburgh is our UK base, where the 18 members of the student-led Sanitree team from 3 different countries attend university together. It is here that we organise most of our fundraising to support the production and activities in the Her Shakti Centre. We host events for the student community throughout the year to raise funds and awareness of the project, as well as working with political and community stakeholders, organising campaigns raising awareness of period stigma. We are currently breaking into the UK market with our pads to further subsidise the cost of our pads in Jaipur and help to fund other Jaipur ventures.
Through both locations, Jaipur and Edinburgh, Sanitree is committed to helping solve the issue of period poverty. Studies show that 64% of women in India don’t use period products, but unhygienic alternatives instead, such as old rags and socks. There have even been reports of the use of rice husk ash, a type of agricultural waste. Inadequate education is one of the most pervasive factors perpetuating period poverty in India today: 71% of adolescent girls in India are unaware of menstruation until they experience it themselves. Education is a vital tool for stimulating public conversations about periods; when menstruators cannot learn about their reproductive health, it pushes the conversation into a place of shame, reinforcing a culture created by the patriarchal view that periods are dirty and polluting. This culture ultimately affects people of all genders, as it stigmatises the vital biological process which is the origin of all life.
Period poverty is a crucial issue to solve, having detrimental long-term effects. For the 87 million women and girls in India who live in poverty, using unhygienic methods of period care is often the only option, a practice which forces 23 million girls to drop out of school every year. Devastatingly, this is most likely to occur at the average age of the onset of puberty. Without education, girls are twice as likely to marry during childhood and face life-threatening risks from early pregnancy. Furthermore, they are less likely to have access to opportunities which will help them break the cycle of poverty, and challenge the cultures and institutions that taught them to feel shame about their bodies.
We take a holistic approach to the issue, considering the full health, social, economic, and political landscape that affects access to menstrual health education and period products. Our innovative solution to this problem is rooted in our handmade, reusable and biodegradable period pad, made from one layer of organic brushed cotton, 4 layers of ultra-absorbent organic cotton and one waterproof Polyurethane (PUL) layer. Our pads are manufactured by women from vulnerable backgrounds and provide a creative solution to period poverty and advocacy for a healthier planet while economically empowering local communities.
All our materials are environmentally and economically sustainable, locally sourced from independent suppliers who share our vision and values. Organic cotton is estimated to be grown using around 91% less water than non-organic cotton. It is also chemical free which means it is not harmful when it biodegrades, a process taking only 5 months, so it can efficiently return its nutrients back into the soil. PUL is a heat-bonded laminate with polyester fabric, ensuring the pad’s leak-proof credentials and extending its durability. It is also low in toxicity, allowing it to biodegrade safely. On its current trajectory, the fashion industry will use up ¼ of the world's carbon budget by 2050 and, globally, less than 1% of clothes are recycled. To address this, the Sanitree pad pouches are made from textile offcuts (160kg to date) from local factories which otherwise would go to waste.
Whilst we sell our pads to conscious consumers, our focus is centred on donation drives supported by local partner NGOs in India, which have been running regularly since the centre opened in 2019. There is a significant stigma surrounding menstrual cups and tampons across the country, and therefore pads enable greater cultural sensitivity and accessibility. They also provide a much more economical way for charities to make a longer-lasting impact without undermining climate justice. This is essential as the Global South is already experiencing some of the most devastating effects of the climate crisis.
We distribute our pads to menstruators in schools, workplaces and communities alongside educational sessions, that both illustrate how to use and clean the pads as well as breaking down some of the pervasive period stigmas. Our aim is to create conversations about menstruation, by sharing experiences in a safe environment, cultivating trust and understanding. We lead sessions with both boys and girls together as we feel this approach tackles the shame and stigma at the root. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback, for example with Chankhasi School in Malawi where most of the 30 girls' attendance rates increased and their confidence in the school environment excelled. We believe this intersectional approach is the only way to ensure long-term period dignity.
Sanitree’s future is bright. We have just celebrated our 5th birthday and are already planning ahead for the next 5 years; continuing to run our educational sessions, as well as working towards becoming a vendor for the UN where our period dignity kits would be sent to refugee camps all over the world. Hopefully, sometime in the future, we can even supply our kits to the Scottish government! There are exciting things in store for Sanitree.
Written by Erin Stratton and Lula Ashdown
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