Taboo in 2022 - Fighting Period Poverty
An Interview with Sanitree
Period poverty is the struggle to access period products due to financial barriers. Those affected by period poverty face two options;
Endure humiliation and ridicule from others in social scenarios, work or school, impacting mental health, education and long-term prospects for those affected.
Or come up with a substitute for period products, impacting physical health by putting them at risk of infections, potentially leading to life-threatening consequences like toxic shock and sepsis.
There is a fundamental need for convenient and accessible menstrual products worldwide.
There is also a need for clever, modern solutions to minimise our environmental impact.
Sanitree exists for this reason. Founded by Bharat Singh Chaturvedi, a student from India studying Economics and Politics at Edinburgh University, Sanitree is a charity which manufactures and sells reusable period pads.
These pads last for two years and when they do need to be disposed of, they are fully biodegradable once the clips are removed.
As discussed in an article by Friends of the Earth, period pads can be made of up to 90% plastic; the equivalent of 4 plastic carrier bags per pad.
Considering how many people need menstrual products and how many they would need over their lifetimes, Sanitree's reusable pads could be a huge leap in safeguarding mental and physical well-being and reducing plastic pollution.
Smart Dental Care is sponsoring Sanitree with a contribution of £100 per month - to get the message out there and to gain more insight into the charity and its projects, we spoke with Sanitree’s fundraising manager, Brianna Bose.
“What inspired this charity?”
“In India, Sanitree’s founder Bharat noticed period poverty in his community. He recognised the lack of access to menstrual products through the impact on his family members as well as the broader community he lived in.
There weren’t conversations about it as menstruation is still a taboo subject. He felt this was harmful to the people he cared about, so he established a pilot project in his home town of Bhind, where beneficiaries made the prototype of the Sanitree cloth pad.”
“What is Sanitree’s mission?”
“Sanitree’s main mission is to make menstruation an experience which is both empowering to the people and safe for the environment. We also aim to close the wealth and geographic divide of people using safe and environmentally friendly period products.
The period conversation is still taboo in India - 71% of girls there are unaware of the menstrual cycle before they have their first period. This leaves them completely unaware of the effect of menstruation on the body, how it presents itself and how to manage it each month.
If they don’t resort to dropping out, they'll put up with the embarrassment or try to 'make do' - there are cases where girls have tried to maintain their dignity and routine, by using hay or leaves as a substitute, which can cause further harm to the body such as urinary tract infections or worse.
Replacing the menstrual products available in supermarkets with reusable cloth pads almost eliminates the plastic waste that’s created. By 2030, the number of discarded pads is on track to reach 30 billion.
That’s a lot of plastic waste and a big impact on the environment which we (and other reusable menstrual pad manufacturers) have proven is completely unnecessary if they’d take a step toward sustainability.”
“What is the charity doing to accomplish its goals?”
“Sanitree mainly operates with grassroots activism - engagement at a local level - in our case, through awareness-raising sessions and donation drives.
We’ve led multiple donation drives in India; a recent example of this is our collaboration with Miss Wheeler in March for International Women’s Day."
Embedded video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WA6HBEJAO94
"This donation drive took place in a school in Jaipur - many of the children who attend the school are from lower-income families and are hit badly by both the taboo and the inaccessibility of menstrual products.
We aligned our own goals with the Sustainable Development Goals the UN adopted in 2015 because Sanitree also recognises that providing solutions to one world problem can have a positive effect on other problems too.”
The UN has set out Sustainable Development Goals for countries or companies, which aim to protect the planet and its people, addressing issues such as poverty and climate change.
Below are three of the 17 sustainable development goals set out by the UN, and how Sanitree is working to achieve each as outlined on their website;
The Her Shakti Centre in Jaipur provides women in difficult economic circumstances an income and a skillset, enabling them to earn a fair wage and provide for themselves and their families. Sanitree’s pads also prevent income from being spent on single-use disposable products.
Many women in India continue to use old rags and cloth as an alternative to period pads which often have health complications and carry diseases. Pads are more hygienic and women are taught the correct way to wash and care for these pads to keep themselves safe. Sanitree beneficiaries work in safe conditions, where they can choose flexible hours and receive a fair wage to live on.
Sanitree’s community Outreach Officer Muskan and Co-director Ishu carry out community and school sessions to educate women, not only on the importance and benefits of reusable pads but also to end the stigma surrounding menstruation conversation.
“What will monetary contributions to the charity go towards?”
“Any monetary contributions go towards pad production at Her Shakti Centre where our managing director Ishu is based. This means helping to purchase materials such as cotton, buttons and size labels as well as the machinery to put it all together like sewing machines and button press machines.
These contributions also help cover the costs of running the Her Shakti Centre like rent and bills, the salary for Ishu the Managing Director and the wages for our beneficiaries; the women who manufacture the pads.
As we receive more funds, we’d like to channel more resources into our educational programs too, such as classes and materials for schools.”
“What sets you apart from other organisations with similar missions?”
“There are competitors who make period underwear and reusable pads who are more established, but we focus on empowering the people in India too through the Her Shakti Centre.
The women we work with haven't had the opportunity to earn money or do jobs outside of the house, and giving them back this power and this independence is a thrilling and rewarding experience.
Our beneficiaries have even been able to get their financial affairs in order and send their children to private schools, ensuring that their children receive the education they may not have had.
“With our local engagement with grassroots campaigns, we directly tackle the social stigmas too, through classes to educate both children in schools, as well as the adults who lack the understanding.”
Children are at high risk of dropping out of school, due to internal fears and embarrassment, not to mention being singled out and humiliated by those around them.
The lack of understanding from adults spreads to the children, leaving menstruating youngsters unprepared and unequipped, while non-menstruators are left unaware and more likely to default to ridicule.
As well as the importance of donation drives to provide pads for the people, if Sanitree’s lessons and awareness-raising sessions can reach more schools and colleges, it will help towards setting a new precedent for the coming generations.
“Could you give our readers an example of one of Sanitree’s big successes?”
“In 2020, we partnered with Kingswood School in Bath - who sponsored £1500 to provide menstrual pads for 350 schoolgirls. The Principal at the school Mr Andrew Banda was thrilled; he saw the immediate positive effect it had on the education of many girls who had dropped out of school.
We hope to set up another donation drive to provide more pads to the girls in the school, and other schools like it. The positive impact was undeniable and gave children the confidence they needed to return to school and participate in classes without the fear of humiliation.”
A student at the school who benefited from the donation drive was happy to share her testimony;
“I dropped out of school in the first term of the 2019/20 school academic year. The reason behind this dropout was that whenever I went to school during a menstrual period, my fellow students used to laugh at me because the old clothes I used to cover myself were not enough to keep me safe. Always menstrual blood came out. However, when the headmaster told me that they have received a donation of pads from the Sanitree Community I was very happy. Then I decided to return to school to resume my lessons.”
Dispelling long-standing taboos that have endured for generations sounds like a monumental task; tackling the internalised shame within the individual, as well as shame aimed at the individual from the broader community.
“It is difficult and it’s a problem that’s reinforced all over the world - period poverty doesn’t just affect people abroad and far away; 1-10 girls in the UK can't afford to buy period products either and menstruators are still subject to humiliation.
Scotland recently passed a law about making period products free in public institutions - so you now can get them free around the university for example. England hasn’t passed anything yet, but we do hope they’ll follow Scotland’s example soon.”
“Is there anything else you wish more people knew about your organisation?”
“We make a point of stating ‘people who menstruate’ instead of ‘women who menstruate’ because menstruation isn’t exclusively for women due to gender fluidity and transgender individuals. We want to change the language used in the conversation to be more inclusive, it’s something the world could see more of and we can play our small part in that through the conversations and platforms Sanitree opens up for us.”
- End of interview -
Smart Dental Care would like to thank Brianna for taking the time to speak with us - If you share the same sentiments as Sanitree, if you’ve been affected by period poverty, or if you think it’s unacceptable for people of 2022 to fall prey to taboos created in a bygone era, head over to their website, make a donation today and join the modern menstrual revolution.
You can also follow them on their Instagram for regular updates and to help their voice grow louder.