Sanitary pad initiative creates opportunities for women in remote Queensland town

Updated 

Moon Sick Car Bags founder Gay Muller holds a pile of washable sanitary pads while three Doomadgee women make more of them.

Despite living in one of Queensland’s most disadvantaged areas, a group of women in Doomadgee, in the lower Gulf of Carpentaria, have spent months sewing 1,320 reusable sanitary pads for women in Papua New Guinea.

The Moon Sick Care Bag initiative was thought up by Queensland woman Gay Muller in 2017 after she came across washable sanitary pads while on a trip to South Africa.

Mrs Muller later paired with Reef & Rainforest Research Centre (RRRC) Connect, the philanthropic arm of the research centre, which is currently working in 13 isolated villages to get the bags to Papua New Guinea.

RRRC Connect Project lead and My Pathway women’s coordinator, Yolonde Entsch, said moon sick care bags provide women with everything they need when they are menstruating.

Each bag includes four washable sanitary pads, two pairs of underwear, a small material bag for soiled pads, a face washer, bar of soap and a laminated information card about a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle.

“The pads are made from terry towelling material layered in the middle, a soft fabric on the top, and then on the bottom there’s a fabric called Polyurethane Laminate that prevents leakage,” Ms Entsch said.

“We haven’t tested yet how many uses each pad will get, but we’re expecting [they will last] at least a year — if not longer.”

Two Domadgee women standing next to each other at a table while making Moon Sick car Bags.

Distance no barrier for compassion

Ms Entsch first travelled to Doomadgee in September 2017 as part of her role with employment organisation My Pathway.

“When I came out for the week I told them about the work I was doing in Papua New Guinea and how difficult the lives of the women there are,” Ms Entsch said.

“A lot of PNG women use old rags, and in really sad cases, are using coconut fibre to absorb the blood.

“[After my trip] two of the ladies went over [to] the main office and said to the manager how lucky they were to be living in Doomadgee and how much it saddened them to think about these women in PNG.

“When I heard that I thought to myself ‘I bet that as an activity they would enjoy making the Moon Sick Care Bags’.”

Creating opportunities

More than 20 women aged between 17 and 65 were involved in the project, including a core group of five women.

“We did it as a staged process,” Ms Entsch said.

“First the ladies made the bright, colourful cord bags, then they made the face washers, and then we built up to making the sanitary pads.

“The goal was [to make] 250 bags, but the ladies just kept sewing and one time when I came out [to visit] we had 330 and the ladies decided that’s how many we’re going to gift.

“One lady decided that she was going to learn how to use the overlocker and ended-up overlocking all 1,320 pads.”

The skills the women gained through the project are already beginning to pay dividends, with trekking company Getaway Trekking commissioning the group to produce 200 additional Moon Sick Care bags, at $20 each.

“[The company] will then sell them to trekkers who can them give them out on the Kokoda Track. The ladies have a potential sale of $4,000.

“There’s also talks of the onion bags that come in from the shop … using an industrial sewing machine to turn them into bags.”

Empowering women

A photo showing the contents of a Moon Sick car Bag.

Two Doomadgee women involved in the project, Veronica Walden and Anthea Chong, will travel to the Western Province of Papua New Guinea in October to personally had out the bags.

“I’m looking forward to meeting these ladies, being able to sit down and listen to some of their stories, tell them our stories, and how we felt when we heard their stories,” Ms Walden said.

Ms Walden was the Activity Supervisor for the project in between visits from Ms Entsch and was responsible for keeping the women on task and performing the final checks of the bags.

“I love coming to work because I know every day when I come in I have something to do,” she said.

“Before Yolonde came out there wasn’t really much for us to do here.”

Ms Entsch said she hopes the project will encourage women in other Indigenous communities.

“When Aboriginal women hear another Aboriginal woman sharing her story about what she’s been able to do in community, that gives all Aboriginals hope … whether it’s in another Gulf community, whether it’s in the Cape, whether it’s in the Northern Territory.”

The 330 bags created by the Doomadgee group will begin arriving in Papua New Guinea in August

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