How bra fittings are helping save rural women’s lives

Stephanie Gardiner |

Support the Girls offers free bra fittings to rural and Indigenous women.
Support the Girls offers free bra fittings to rural and Indigenous women.

Not far from yacht clubs, shimmering beaches and five star resorts, a homeless woman had sought shelter from the summer heat and humidity.

Crisis counsellor Jane Holmes found her beneath the Sundale Bridge on Queensland’s Gold Coast, in agony.

Lily quietly lifted her shirt to reveal severe chafing, having never been able to afford a bra.

“It was absolutely horrific, it really shook me to the core,” Ms Holmes told AAP.

“I couldn’t believe in a first world country that is so wealthy we had a person in a situation where she couldn’t afford a bra.”

Lily was the catalyst for Ms Holmes to launch the charity Support the Girls, which offers free bra fittings, underwear and menstrual products to women in rural and Indigenous communities.

A van dubbed Brabarella hits the road with volunteers and donated items on board, reaching more than 2000 women in regional Queensland and NSW each year.

The organisation has partnered with BreastScreen NSW and Aboriginal health organisations to encourage more than 400 Indigenous women to have mammograms since last May.

The program boosted screening rates from nine per cent to 74 per cent in some areas, providing scans and fittings in culturally safe environments that fostered conversation and compassion.

It took out the Exceptional Aboriginal Healthcare category at NSW Health’s Murrumbidgee excellence awards on Friday night.

It’s crucial to reach Indigenous women, who are often highly reluctant to get checked, BreastScreen NSW health promotion officer Heather Hillam says.

“For Aboriginal women, the idea of being vulnerable and standing naked from the waist up and having someone touch and move their breast … a word you hear a lot is ‘shame’,” she said.

“But the prospect of having a bra fitting and a lovely, supportive women-only environment has been enough to get a lot of women over that fear.”

The gift of new underwear and toiletries not only makes women and girls feel good, it breaks down barriers to schooling and employment

“We see a lot of teenage girls who are not going to school because they don’t have bras …  so now they can,” Ms Holmes said.

“If you’ve got a mum who feels good within herself, she can project that onto her children.”

Support The Girls is hosting an event in Boggabilla, on the NSW-Queensland border, on June 19 and 20 and the mammogram program will visit Griffith, NSW, on June 30 and 31.

Ms Holmes said extra volunteers and funds were needed to connect with more women, including those living on isolated farms.

“A lot of Australian women struggling; there’s a huge need.”