ISHU SHIVA is revolutionizing daily life for many women by giving them access to menstrual health using safe and sustainable practices and products. KARISHMA DESAI interviews Ishu about how she is removing the stigma around menstruation, is liberating women from taboos, and is promoting healthy practices.
Q: Welcome to Heartfulness Magazine, Ishu. It’s a pleasure to have you with us today. Your work in the field of menstrual health has been making significant strides, and we’re excited to delve into the details of your journey and the impact of Sanitree. Thank you for joining us.
IS: Thank you, Karishma. I’m delighted to share our story and hopefully inspire others to join our mission.
Q: Let’s start at the beginning. Can you share with us the story behind Sanitree? What was the catalyst that led you to create an organization focused on menstrual health?
IS: My journey began as a child, before I started menstruating. I was fortunate enough to receive education about menstruation from an NGO that visited my school. This enlightening experience demystified menstruation for me. However, when I moved back to Rajasthan, I was taken aback by the stark contrast in attitudes. Menstruation was a taboo topic, shrouded in stigma and misconception. This was the impetus for me to start an NGO. We were one of the first in Rajasthan to openly educate girls and boys about menstruation in public places and government schools. Our goal was to break the silence and promote healthy practices.
Q: That's an inspiring start. Can you share a success story that reaffirms the importance of what you’re doing?
IS: One story that stands out involves a woman from a rural community who had been using poor-quality sanitary pads. She had allergies and rashes, so menstruation was a curse for her. It was a painful and uncomfortable experience she dreaded every month.
After attending one of our educational sessions, she was inspired to take control of her menstrual health. She consulted a doctor, got proper medication, and started using our cloth pads. She found them comfortable and easy to wash. This change transformed her experience. Menstruation was no longer a curse but a natural process she could manage comfortably. It is a testament to the power of education and access to quality menstrual products.
Q: Sanitree is committed to sustainability. Can you highlight any innovative approaches you’ve made in integrating eco-friendly practices and products?
IS: Sustainability is at the heart of everything we do at Sanitree. We believe that promoting menstrual health should not come at the expense of our planet. We’ve integrated eco-friendly practices into every aspect of our work.
We source our materials locally to reduce our carbon footprint. Our products are made by women using minimal machinery, promoting local employment while reducing energy consumption. We store our products in eco-friendly packages, reducing waste and promoting recycling.
Our cloth pads are biodegradable and last up to two years, significantly reducing waste compared to disposable pads. Every disposable pad contains the equivalent amount of plastic of four shopping bags. With approximately 121 million women using disposable sanitary pads in India, 12 billion pads are thrown away every year. Taking 500 to 800 years to decompose, these 12 billion pads are harming India’s environment and the future of the planet. Each woman using our pads can prevent approximately 600 disposable pads from ending up in landfill over the course of two years. We’ve been recognized for our efforts with several sustainability awards in the UK and India, of which we’re incredibly proud.
Q: That’s commendable. There are many deep-rooted taboos and misconceptions around menstrual health, so how does Sanitree address them? How do you break down the barriers?
IS: The challenges are deeply ingrained in societal norms and attitudes, however these barriers can be overcome with the right approach. We believe in catering to the unique cultural and social contexts of the communities in which we work. We conduct extensive research to understand these contexts and tailor our approach accordingly.
We work closely with community leaders and other NGOs to reach grassroots levels, so that we can address misconceptions and taboos directly and promote an open and healthy dialogue about menstruation.
Q: Ishu, your work is truly inspiring. Could you share your vision for the future of Sanitree? What are your hopes for the coming years?
IS: We aim to tackle period poverty and the stigma around menstruation in a sustainable, collaborative, and ethical way. Our vision is to continue to expand our reach and impact, educating more people about menstrual health, breaking down taboos, and providing more sustainable menstrual products. We’re also exploring partnerships with other organizations to amplify our impact.
Our mission is to make menstruation an experience that is empowering for people and kind to the planet. We believe that there is a wealth divide and a geographical divide when it comes to access to safe and hygienic sanitary products, a basic human right that should be afforded to all menstruating people equally. In the coming years, we hope to see a world where menstruation is not taboo but a normal, healthy part of life. A world where everyone has access to safe, comfortable, and sustainable menstrual products. A world where menstrual health is recognized as a natural aspect of overall health and well-being.
Q: Collaboration is vital to driving social change. Can you elaborate on Sanitree’s partnerships and collaborations, and how they enhance your work?
IS: Collaboration is a cornerstone of our work. By working together, we can achieve far more than we can alone. We collaborate with a wide range of NGOs, governments, and individuals.
NGOs help us reach grassroots levels and understand the unique needs and challenges of the communities in which we work. Governments help us scale our impact through supportive policies and media outreach. Individuals help by understanding and normalizing menstruation in their own communities.
Influencers and the media play a significant role in spreading awareness. By leveraging their platforms, we reach a wider audience and promote a more open dialogue about menstruation.
Q: How can our readers engage with Sanitree to support your endeavors, and contribute to your mission?
IS: There are many ways. There are three vital things for any social cause – time, money, and energy.
You can spend time sharing our content on social media, raising awareness about menstrual health, and breaking down taboos. You can volunteer for our projects, contributing your skills and energy to our cause. And you can donate to support our work, helping us reach more people and make a greater impact.
We welcome all of you who share our passion for menstrual health and sustainability to join us in our mission. Together, we can make menstruation a kind and empowering experience for all.
Q: Thank you, Ishu, for sharing your insights and experiences with us. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.
IS: Thank you, Karishma. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. I hope our conversation inspires more people to join our mission.