Immigration

Meet the Brisbane inmates changing lives of young women and girls across the world

0:00

Period shame and a lack of access leaves many vulnerable women in dangerous situations when it comes to period health. Tania Safi takes a look at the Australian program that’s helping save lives - while teaching valuable life skills.

For inmates at Helana Jones Centre, life is a little different to what you might expect.

This suburban Brisbane correctional facility houses low-risk female prisoners. Here, the women are encouraged to work eight-hour days on community service projects, counselling and other programs that help with reintegration and rehabilitation.

Days for Girls
The Helana Jones Centre encourages female inmates to work on community service projects
The Feed

From teaching the women how to open their own bank accounts or helping develop new life skills, the priority is to instill confidence for when they're back on the outside.

"We know that women coming into prison have very low self esteem, and that's often resulting from trauma that they might have had in their childhood or as young women," said Robyn, manager of the prison.

"A really important part of rehabilitation is to find ways to build that confidence."

But a unique program is giving inmates the chance to change not just their own lives - but those of young women worlds away.

The Feed was granted exclusive access to the Helana Jones Centre to hear more about 'Days for Girls' - and to meet the inmates putting their news skills to positive use: addressing period poverty.

More than 12 million female refugees worldwide have little or no sanitary protection. The United Nations says lack of income and cultural shame around periods leaves these women unable to attend school or religious ceremonies - even, in some cases, touch water or cook.

Most are left with no other option than to use unhygienic materials, that can lead to infections.

I first heard of Days of Girls while filming a documentary in a refugee settlement north of Lebanon. Here, most refugee girls and women are unable to find work or attend school. Menstrual cycles and periods are still taboo ideas.

Days for Girls
Tania Safi first heard about Days for Girls in Lebanon earlier this year.
Tania Safi

Days for Girls says it wants to 'turn periods into pathways', by providing young women the resources and information they need to manage their menstruation. They supply reusable 'period kits' and health education.

The sustainable pads last up to three to five years. Each kit comes with 2 washable pads, 8 lines, soap, underwear, a care and use sheet and more.

The packs are bright and colourful, so women and girls don't feel embarrassed about having them in public.

Days for Girls works with the Helana Jones Centre in Brisbane to sew and distribute the kits. It's a win-win: disadvantaged women are helped - and inmates are given a new skill, a job - and a purpose for their time inside.

Days for Girls
The Feed

"Everything we do here for work is for a charity or community service so it certainly makes you feel like you're giving back more," one inmate told us.

Globally, Day for Girls has helped more than one million young women.

However, the Australian chapter of the program receives no government funding. Coordinator Gillian Goldsworthy says her team relies on the kindness of others.

"All the fabric is from donations," she told The Feed.

A single kit costs about $9 AUD to produce. Women at Helena Jones Centre provide roughly 200-300 kits a month. Over its five years in operation, that's some 51,000 pieces of sewing.

"It's just giving them dignity," said Gillian.

Hopefully it means something to them, that we care what they're going through and [are] sending a bit of love.

Female prisoners told The Feed it had been a rewarding experience.

"We watched that documentary and recognised the material that we'd actually sewn so some of those kits came from here and that was a pretty enormously good feeling," one inmate told us.

"A lot of high security jails, you do nothing all day. Here, you get the chance to wake up, do something good, go to sleep and it's another day down," said another.

It's good for your mental health, for your emotional health.

Days for Girls
The Feed

Several say they'll keep up with the work when they go home.

"It's helping people that need our help - and to be needed is a good thing."

If you’d like to find out more or donate to Days for Girls Australia - click here.