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Cheyenne Wilson (left) from Amuri Rural Women, Bra Lady Pauline Watson (centre) and Geraldine member Fiona Blake with some of the bras donated in Ashburton.

By Linda Clarke

I’ve never considered the bras I wear luxury items. They’ve done a job, through my teenage, maternity and adult days and are a basic, essential wardrobe item.

In Fiji, bras are like gold. They are so expensive and hard to get that women share them. Bras also dictate if a woman can get a job or go out in public. Women are less likely to be raped if they are wearing one.

Mid Canterbury women are being asked to contribute their second-hand bras to Project Uplift, a venture involving Christchurch woman Pauline Watson, known as the Bra Lady, that delivers bras to women who really need them.

She collects bras given to her by women all over the country, and now from Rural Women Mid Canterbury.

Pauline was a guest speaker at Rural Women’s annual Canterbury conference last week and left with a heap of bras and undies for women and girls in the Pacific Islands.

She says collecting the bras is easy. Women around New Zealand give or hunt out bras on special for the express purpose of giving them to women in the Pacific Islands. The average size needed is 16 D or DD, and white or a colour able to be worn under white clothing.

Bras make their way to the islands in many ways interrupted life as we know it. She gives suitcases full of bras to friends and health colleagues heading to the islands, the armed forces deliver them, private sailors take them: her work is akin to smuggling.

Pauline said making sure the bras were delivered to the right people was important as corruption was rife. Bras had been sold, held in customs and used to win votes. Distributed by health workers, bras could entice women to have cervical smears or bring their children for vaccination.

She has her tried and trusted channels and has personally made deliveries. There are always 1000 bras in her garage ready to go, along with an information sheet with fitting instructions.

Pauline says her last visit to Fiji to deliver bras resulted in many stories: Two sisters shared a bra, five women living in one house shared a bra, some women needed bras to work.

“It was so humbling, and we are throwing them away here.”

Owning a bra was life-changing for many, she said, and many could not afford the price or travel to get one.

Project Uplift collects bras and undies. Seek out your nearest Rural Women member to donate.