Sanitree is a project run by students at the University of Edinburgh, innovating reusable sanitary pads that are safer, cheaper and more environmentally friendly than other alternatives.
Whilst partial operations are conducted by students here in the UK, the actual cooperative is based in the Bhind district of India. The social enterprise’s beneficiaries are local women in Bhind. The aim of the project is not only to provide mechanisms for manufacturing and utilising the reusable pads, but in the long term to make the project a self sustaining cooperative, completely run by the local beneficiaries themselves.
Bharat Singh Chaturvedi, Founder and Project Leader of Sanitree, spoke to The Student about how the project came to be: “The idea started when I was back home over summer vacation [in Bhind, India]… somebody mentioned that women were being punished by being female [with regards to menstruation]… I was quite appalled by what they were saying. I thought that with my position as a student – privileged enough to get international education – a lot could be done about this.”
Bharat also explained his realisation that there was so much stigma surrounding menstruation for women in Bhind. Locals in Bhind would be using leaves, rags and wood chips wrapped in cloth, as alternatives for sanitary pads. Extensive consequences could arise from resorting to such unhygienic options.
Coming back to Edinburgh for the academic year, a friend mentioned Enactus to Bharat, and through it he found the students who now play a core role in heading up Sanitree.
The sanitary pads are a solution for issues of cost; women who cannot afford to buy commercial pads can save money by using reusable alternatives which last from one and a half to two years. The pads are manufactured locally, and the cooperative itself is registered with the local administration of the Bhind district.
Throughout the process of setting up the project it was realised that not only did the problem of manufacturing the pads that have to be tackled, but the stigma surrounding menstruation also had to be broken down.
Speaking about menstruation is considered a taboo, and menstruation is associated as something that sheds in their bodies, and that “impurities” are being taken out.
“People aren’t taught about menstruation”, Bharat said, noting that education on the biological explanations of menstruation needed to be permeated more widely, challenging orthodox mentalities.
In the Sanitree team was a student studying reproductive biology, who helped to put together educational mechanisms that would come to be part of the project.
Bharat agreed that this stigma around talking about menstruation is not limited to the Bhind district, but across the country and beyond, all over the world. “I think what we’re doing is just an extension of this wider movement going on in raising off the stigma attached to menstruation” he explained.
Menstrual cups, Bharat mentioned, were raised as a possible product. However, pads seemed to be what were most familiar to the local beneficiaries.
Sanitree continues to be developed by students, and has recently also been commended by MSPs at the Scottish Government, as well as by various activists in the area.
For more information about Sanitree, visit their website: https://www.sanitree.org/
Image: Sanitree via Instagram