With the start of the new academic year educational institutions across Scotland are to provide free sanitary products. Sanitree, a University of Edinburgh student-led project, has been at the forefront of this initiative. Co-founder Martha Aroha Reilly spoke to The Student on the matter, as well as on plans for the upcoming months.
Sanitree is a social enterprise revolved around the innovation of reusable menstrual pads, that are distinct through the three pillars of safety, low cost and environmental sustainability. The production of these cloth pads is run through a business model that properly values the labour process of production.
Originally initiated as a pilot project in Bhind, India, Sanitree’s greater mission is to break away from the taboo of periods globally.
At the Scottish Parliament in May, Sanitree co-founder Bharat Singh Chaturvedi had the opportunity to discuss their story and future collaboration with MSP Monica Lennon and Ann Henderson, Rector for the university.
The passing of the bill marks Scotland as the first country in the world to allow free access to essential sanitary items to students in schools, colleges and universities.
Co-founder Martha elaborated on the collaboration with University of Edinburgh Rector, Ann Henderson, and MSP Monica Lennon: “(Ann) was particularly inclined to help Sanitree further our work in a domestic context, aware as she was of the issue of period poverty in Scotland and the work going on in the background to bring the issue to Holyrood.
“Sanitree conducted informal interviews with members of the public earlier in the summer, as part of an awareness campaign to gauge peoples’ awareness of the issue. We had become aware of recent research by Women for Independence (WFI) that played a huge role in exposing the scope of period poverty in Scotland.
“What was clear to us from our interviews is that, even if people had an understanding of period poverty, it seemed an almost mystified concept; something that was affecting peoples’ lives ‘out there’, in refugee camps, as has been increasingly reported, or in countries where health and sanitation was already in crisis.
“In a privileged, Westernised country women and menstruating people took on the financial burden of sanitary items privately. But the reality is, for a lot of Scottish families, sanitary items struggle to make it onto the monthly budget, for reasons relating not only to stigma but also the sheer cost of menstruating.”
Ann had put Sanitree in touch with MSP Monica Lennon, who had been researching proposed Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill.
Martha said: “Menstruating people are estimated to miss up to 20 per cent of schooling in India due to menstruation, statistics that are relatively consistent across the demographics, rich and poor, urban and rural.
And in Scotland, nearly 20 per cent of people have had to go without period products due to finances (according to the WFI). And our experience working in both countries meant we could absolutely testify to this to Monica.
“The news of the recent legislation is fantastic, but there’s certainly a lot more work to be done when it comes to ensuring access to sanitary items for all who need them, whenever they need them. On upcoming initiatives within Sanitree, Martha said: “In the context of Scotland, we are working to increase our presence on campus, and find new ways to engage students from the University of Edinburgh with us and our work. We will definitely be running more pad-making workshops in the months to come, as well as organising events that serve a more informative purpose.”