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Lavanya Bahuguna


Sanitree’s Reusable Cloth Pad Revolution Is Ending Period Poverty In Rural India

  • IWB Post
  •  September 20, 2019


A couple of years ago, an Indian man named Bharat Singh Chaturvedi got concerned about the health-condition of women living in his village. He noticed that they were suffering due to the lack of sanitation and were also facing horrible menstruation-related taboos in their community. To turn the situation around, he planned to end this Period-Poverty with the help of some students from England.

Bharat came in touch with Martha Aroha Reilly at the University of Edinburgh through a student society called Enactus Edinburgh that facilitates social enterprises around the world. The two decided to visit his village so they could teach these rural women how to make their own reusable sanitary pads.

In January 2018, along with two other students – Anja Anderson and Phoebe Jones, Bharat and Martha went to his village Bhind in Madhya Pradesh to set up the pilot project. In no time, this team of philanthropists established Sanitree that was based on the model of employing disadvantaged women to sew and sell reusable sanitary pads. In this way, not only did they start a revolution that works towards the eradication of the period poverty today but also makes sure these underprivileged women become financially independent.

Introducing our beautiful pads in medium and large sizes 🌸🌷 get yours at @thecountrystore_jaipur NOW 🇮🇳 #supportlocal #gogreen #maketheswitch #jointheclothpadrevolution #plasticfree #nowaste

35 Likes, 1 Comments – Sanitree (@sani.tree) on Instagram: “Introducing our beautiful pads in medium and large sizes 🌸🌷 get yours at @thecountrystore_jaipur…”

Below is our conversation with Amy Goodman, who initially worked on communications, events, and fundraising for Sanitree. However, this year, she has been appointed as the Director succeeding Martha, after the latter was appointed as the Women’s Officer for the University of Edinburgh. Excerpts below:

Tell us about September of 2017 when Bharat decided to change the vulnerable situation of the women in his village and contacted the Enactus Edinburgh society to seek help.

Our founder Bharat from Bhind (Madhya Pradesh) saw the difficulty and stigma that the women in his family had been facing when trying to get access to sanitary products or even talk about their monthly cycles. This motivated him to find a solution in the form of employing these women into making sanitary pads, along with delivering education on puberty and menstruation to them. Through the society Enactus Edinburgh, which facilitates social enterprises, the founding team had been created.

The cooperative in Bhind was implemented on January 2018, employing 27 women. Due to the support of the Indian government, it became self-sustaining rather quickly. Our focus has always been to empower our female-team, that eventually runs these cooperatives. We call this unique concept ‘Train the Trainer.’ It is only because of this kind of vision that Bhind’s project was a great success and today, it is run by the women from local communities! Apart from this, we also have a UK team, which operates from the University of Edinburgh and consists of 10 people in-charge of product development, marketing, social media, development of international sales, accounts, and finances, communications, and anything else you can think of in terms of running the business.

What major obstacles did you face to start this social project in a small hamlet of India?

Talking about our team members, especially those who joined us from the Enactus Edinburgh society, the language barrier has certainly been a difficulty at times. Thankfully, it has never deterred us ever! For any business to sustain in a new country, it’s important to make sure that we conduct our work with as much cultural sensitivity and social awareness as possible.

Shalini giving a refresher sales training to both new and old beneficiaries 🧠 …sent someone to sleep though 😆🙈 #madeinindia #supportlocal #maketheswitch #nowaste #ecofriendly

25 Likes, 0 Comments – Sanitree (@sani.tree) on Instagram: “Shalini giving a refresher sales training to both new and old beneficiaries 🧠 …sent someone to…”

Talk about Sanitree’s association with NGO Jeevan Arth.

It’s quite a coincidence! Martha happened to meet Ishu Saini, the co-founder of The Jeevan Arth Foundation, two years ago while she was instructing her in Yoga. It was only during this time when both of them realized that their individual initiatives were working towards a common goal – Menstrual Hygiene Management in India. Since Sanitree was anyway looking for an opportunity to expand beyond Bhind, we decided to partner with The Jeevan Arth Foundation that’s based out of Jaipur, Rajasthan.

As our first collaboration, we came together to set up ‘HerShakti’ Centre in Jaipur. It is more than just a place of work for the women as we also provide them with free skill development sessions in stitching, self-defense, dancing, etc.

We are in the process of starting a new cooperative, the Her Shakti centre. The Her Shakti centre is the base of the collaboration between Sanitree and the Jeevan Arth Foundation. It is more than just a place where the beneficiaries work but is a community centre which has weekly classes run by volunteers, from self-defence to yoga. #socialenterprise #sustainability #periodpoverty #enactusuk

38 Likes, 0 Comments – Sanitree (@sani.tree) on Instagram: “We are in the process of starting a new cooperative, the Her Shakti centre. The Her Shakti centre…”

Is it easy to communicate with rural and mostly uneducated women and explain your work’s mission to them? What do you do to win their trust so they join Sanitree’s team?

In the past, we had faced some hurdles from the women’s families and trust was definitely an issue. However, when we explained to them the purpose of ‘HerShakti’ Centre that’s also a community space, we came across as a transparent institute that simply wanted to empower them and their families. Such processes, undoubtedly, take time and patience.

However, to ensure that our intentions and activities are clear, it’s important that we include men in our conversation. After all, they, too, have the responsibility to look after the well-being of women in their families. During such dialogue-exchanges, we use the opportunity to de-stigmatize menstruation while also assuring that the women we talk to feel comfortable about it.

Are these women willing to travel to far-off villages to educate fellow females who don’t have access to pads yet?

Not every woman who joins us is free from inhibitions and that’s why we have made training compulsory for all of them, irrespective of the background they come from. In our ‘Train the Trainer’ program, we also focus on helping these women build confidence and be able to conduct dialogues with strangers about periods. We are constantly working towards bringing them at the forefront of the business and handle it when our founders are not around. Things have been great so far.

Talk about the government and community support you’ve received until now.

In Bhind, we were able to receive support and backing from the government which allowed the cooperative to become self-sustaining rather quickly. Last February, we met with the Health Minister of Rajasthan, Raghu Sharma, to discuss our product and his response was positive.

The overall community response has been very huge. In Jaipur, where our production unit is situated, we’ve received help from locals, who understood the community’s needs and thereby, connected us with organic suppliers to make Sanitree reusable pads. However, we are constantly looking for new partnerships to expand and sustain Sanitree.

Sanitree is a social enterprise meaning we are a business which aims to have a wider social impact. Working under Enactus and with Indian NGOs we create cooperatives where women are employed to sew reusable sanitary pads which are then sold within the local community. Our aim is that our cooperatives can become self sufficient and be run by and for the benefit of the local community. We hope the enterprises can provide an environmental, affordable and healthy menstrual hygiene option. Furthermore, by working with a local organisation we want to promote education about menstruation in an effort to combat the taboos which exist around this issue. In everything that we do, we strive for environmental, economical and, most importantly, social, sustainability Find out more at our website: 🌸🌸 #socialenterprise #periodpoverty #sustainability

44 Likes, 0 Comments – Sanitree (@sani.tree) on Instagram: “Sanitree is a social enterprise meaning we are a business which aims to have a wider social impact….”

Sanitree makes eco-friendly cloth pads. Share a little about its no-machine production process.

Sanitree only makes hand-stitched cloth pads. These pads are cut and stitched by the beneficiaries with the aid of sewing machines. Moreover, our packaging, too, is made from recycled off-cuts by female-workers at the textile industry in Jaipur. You can say that we’re super dedicated to making India greener than ever and promoting a zero-waste future.

Does Sanitree pad need any special kind of washing care? Also, since there are no added perfumes in it, have the users ever faced the issue of bad odor?

Every pad comes with a care sheet in Hindi and English, with helpful symbols, detailing exactly how to care for your pad. You should soak your pad in cold water for 10-15 minutes before washing to relieve any stains and then it can be washed just like any other item!

ARE YOU READY TO JOIN THE CLOTH PAD REVOLUTION? We are currently creating an online store so that our pads will be available to buy in the UK and beyond! To be the first to get your hands on your very own Sanitree Pad message us and we will add you to our preorder list. Why not give it a try :) #jointheclothpadrevolution #GoGreen #maketheswitch #handmade #madeinindia

33 Likes, 0 Comments – Sanitree (@sani.tree) on Instagram: “ARE YOU READY TO JOIN THE CLOTH PAD REVOLUTION? We are currently creating an online store so that…”

About perfuming the pads, we don’t believe in adding any harmful chemicals to sanitary items as it can prove to be a health risk. Luckily, we have received no complaints about bad odors so far, that’s probably because we’ve got an extended washing plan mentioned on the packaging. I have personally been using the pad for two years now and have never faced any issue like that. Often, the fear of bad odor is simply paranoia, isn’t it?

How does reusing a cloth pad ensure hygiene?

Traditionally, the cloth was not considered hygienic because we had limited option of disinfectant washing methods. Today, we’ve access to the brushed cotton and PUL that are completely hygienic, absorbent, and leak-free, and various disinfectant cleansers are easily available in the market. Sanitree’s pads, for example, don’t need much water to be cleaned. Also, it is important to dry them in direct sunlight so the bacteria gets killed, making them fully germ-free and usable all over again.

What’s next for Team Sanitree in order to make its ‘cloth pad revolution’ successful?

Our next step is to work on the wider sales of the pads and reach a better market so we can subsidize the cost of the pad for the buyers and consumers. In this way, we’d be able to train more women and polish their potential.

Lastly, what do you have to say about Sanitree’s strong women gang?

A majority of women who work with us are either single mothers or victims of child marriage. In fact, many of them have a history of living in an abusive relationship. We’re just happy to help. Honestly, the well-being and empowerment of our beneficiaries, whatever that may mean to them, is one of our key missions as a business, which is why every woman has a different motivation for wanting to be part of Sanitree. Together, we’ve seen many victories. For example, some of their kids have begun to attend schools due to the supplementary income, which we think is a great achievement!

(pictures are Sanitree’s own)

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