Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:52): Last Saturday I joined more than 200 women and some men at Maroochydore in Queensland to celebrate the first birthday of the Maroochydore Day for Girls program. It was a joyous event, and it was made even more joyous by the fact that we were joined at that event by the Australian leader of the Day for Girls program as well as a number of women who have worked in this program for many years.
This wonderful program has a mission that is dedicated to creating a more free, dignified and educated world through providing lasting access to feminine hygiene solutions and health education. The Maroochydore Day for Girls program has now joined with more than 800 chapters of this group across the world that are working in more than 100 countries and which, up to this stage, has helped more than 640,000 women across the planet. The program works in so many countries to help break the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation and empowering women and girls to initially be able to go to school, and then to get work and to ensure that they are as powerful and as independent as they can be.
The international founder of this organisation, Celeste Mergens, created this organisation with a small number of people in 2008. She says:
There are so many things in this world that are hard, but this is not one of them. This we can change. Together!
We know, and the evidence is clear, that there is an urgent need for menstrual hygiene solutions around the world. There are 1.5 billion women of reproductive age in the world; 300 million of those women live on less than $1.25 a day and will struggle to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, water and hygiene solutions. Reviews found that, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, at least half of the girls in the populations sampled did not have or did not know about adequate access to hygiene solutions. The studies are clearly documented. In Kenya, which is a relatively well developed country, it's estimated that 2.6 million girls-2.2 million primary and 400,000 secondary schoolgirls-require support to obtain menstrual hygiene materials. Approximately 300,000 of them, owing to cultural practices, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, would require both sanitary towels and underwear, at an estimated cost of 2.6 Kenyan shillings. There is a desperate need, and this data can be replicated in many, many areas.
Interestingly enough, earlier this evening, in a contribution by Senator Kakoschke-Moore, we heard about a splendid program in Australia which is working for dignity for women in Australia who have difficulty with being able to afford these products, and there is a wonderful program through many churches and schools where people are able to donate to ensure that the program can provide menstrual products to women in need in Australia. But there is a different level of need about which we are talking with the Days for Girls program services.
I really encourage people to learn more about the program. There is a splendid international website which provides a really valuable map of the world which looks at the locations where the program is operating and the areas where there has been an absolute involvement in the process. The Days for Girls program empowers and unites women, connecting extraordinarily passionate volunteers and key community members. When you work with the Days for Girls program, you find women who are practical and committed and who share a community of purpose in which they believe. Work that they can do in their own homes through creating the kits can make a direct link to women in need around the world. That's shown in the map, where you can see the number of Days for Girls programs in Australia and you see the number of countries where the kits are available.
Certainly in Australia a lot of the focus has been in the Pacific. I first met Days for Girls in the Solomon Islands. Senator Fierravanti-Wells and I were talking this afternoon about visiting the Solomon Islands. Visiting the domestic violence shelter there, I met a number of Australian volunteers who were working in the Solomon Islands, and they were talking about Days for Girls. That's how I met the women. I shared their passion, their commitment and also the international links that are created by women working together.
There is nothing more uniting for women than the issues around menstruation. This is something women understand and share, and women have practical responses. This is where this program unites, it allows empowerment and it also creates fantastic sisterhood, because the women in places like Maroochydore not only get together regularly to create the kits-and I'll talk about what's in them soon-but then have the opportunity to travel to the area where the kits are used to meet the women who have the need and then create further networks and further sisterhood, which then builds the volunteer base. So the model of Days for Girls is based on active volunteers who get involved and then build the network so that they can then have further interaction and in many cases create enterprises in the local communities. Certainly, it's working very well in parts of Africa. We're hoping to be able to extend this to the Pacific, with the kits being created in areas such as Australia. Then you go to a place-hopefully the Solomon Islands will be one-where the knowledge can be shared so women at the other end of the cycle are then able to create the kits themselves and turn them into local business enterprises. So not only do you have the empowerment of getting rid of the taboo and the exclusion of not being part of your wider community when you're menstruating, but you can build employment, economic participation and new life by ensuring that you are then able to have the enterprises at work in the local areas.
On the website it reinforces comments from the people themselves who have been changed by their involvement in the Days for Girls programs, and I am so impassioned by reading the direct quotes of people who've been involved-quotes like:
I love being on the front lines of this revolution! A worldwide community of women. By women. For women.
We also have the extraordinary example of where the kits are very practically created. On the website it says exactly what's in them: basic things like washcloths, Ziploc freezer bags, absorbent trifold pads, drawstring bags, moisture barrier shields-things that can be made here, gathered together and sent out with a personal message from the person who makes them that says, 'This is for you,' immediately creating a communication which gives that sense of empowerment, that sense of being part of much more than just your local community.
I really encourage people to have a look at the dynamic Facebook page for this organisation in Australia. There we see information that is shared by women across Australia who are part of the program. One of my favourites is one that you would understand, Mr Acting Deputy President Williams: the YWAM Medical Ships, of which we've spoken many times in this place and which go from Townsville to the coastal areas in New Guinea. We see photographs on that web page of Days for Girls packs created in Townsville, put on the ships and then taken to New Guinea, our nearest neighbours. We can see again this wonderful organisation created by a woman who saw a need and then saw a practical way to make a difference.
When Celeste said, 'There are lots of things that are difficult to change in the world, but this isn't one of them,' that was a clear challenge to all of us, and in fact it has worked. Since 2008 over 600,000 kits have been distributed to women across the world. They're moving towards having a million kits in the next few years. This we can change. We can change it together.
I add that they have now linked Days for Girls kits to the Sustainable Development Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 17 are all directly impacted by this group of passionate volunteers who work together-by women, for women, together-for all women across our globe.