Mad Menstrual May: a report by Brenda Easton

Published: 29 May 2017

Most of the female staff working on board SPOT 1&2 are MUA members. In the last 5 or so years there have been a small core of us who actively participate in union activities and activism. Of those that volunteer on various committees, most of those have attended some union training, attended conferences, served as onboard delegates and have graduated from the Anna Stewart program. As the Spirits are hospitality based we are continually challenged to embrace new crew members that may or may not come from a trade union background, and they may not initially be receptive to being involved in any form of unionism.

While we have a higher of percentage of women seafarers, we have a low engagement rate, and our committee meeting attendance until now has been slow to grow. While many of us work on both vessels it is not often that we can predict to be working in the same space for any given time, and when on leave, we are separated by the Bass Strait. It made sense for us to collaborate our emerging women and youth committees to work together and create a successful campaign, but for a long time we struggled to find that one cause that would address and overcome all those barriers.

In April, Tracy Ryan at DP World in Botany used the NSW MUA Women’s page to promote a national donation drive for women’s hygiene products to be donated to SHARE THE DIGINITY ORGANISATION.  For the month of April, the public could donate a month’s worth of products to the organisation, who would then distribute the products to homeless and destitute women. I thought this was amazing and promised that Victorian Women would do the same. Tracy called on Lorraine Ryan to involve the girls at Sydney Harbour Ferries. I approached some of the girls on board to help me and it was a vibrant “yes let’s do it”. Unfortunately, April had nearly passed us by and due to rostering issues nothing had happened. So we decided that we should do it any way for the month of May. It should be noted that Sharon McConville and the girls at DP World in Melbourne also organised a successful Melbourne Period Project donation drive in 2016. And we need a shout out to Lorraine Ryan who has been very helpful throughout this process.

We started with a group chat to mind map strategies we could use.  Krista encouraged us to think big and added as many Victorian women to the conversation that she had on her contact list. We decided that we wanted to focus on local women in our home states and establish a positive relationship with organisations that were local. Janet Falcone suggested the Melbourne Period Project and we went with it. Bonnie Crow had a contact with Share the Dignity in Tasmania so that was the organisation of choice for Tasmania. We organised our own collection boxes, Mel McMullen created posters and followed up with some research on homeless women and health issues to inform people about the issues. Both Krista and AJ encouraged all the women to get involved and supported us in any way they could.

We approached our branches who very supportive, especially AJ Bull who encouraged us to go for it and offered to set up a collection box in Tasmanian branch office. We approached our on-board management about using a nominated public space in the crew accommodation, who were also very supportive. We purposely engaged in public conversation in the Rec rooms and mess about what we were doing and why. Once the shock wore off, there were some very engaged conversations about the noticeable rising homeless rate and the associated issues.

Mel McMullen volunteered to create the promotion clip that was uploaded. She typed up a script. We asked our women and youth committee members to participate in the filming. We wanted our delegates to be the faces of the campaign. We wanted to demonstrate that we were a diverse group of women, working in some isolated workspaces who could do something positive for other women. So with the use of smart phones and social media, our members who were located around the country filmed themselves with their part of the script and sent the footage to Mel. She then worked tirelessly for days to put that clip together.


The response to the clip and the drive was mostly supportive. We found that less engaged members and non-members were willing to contribute. We signed up a non-member during this campaign. We had some very positive responses from our brothers, once we all got over awkwardness and the “I never thought I’d a basket of tampons and pads piling up in the rec room of a ship!” I think many who were not too impressed went home and talked to their wives / partners; came back with a different view. 

We deliberately chose organisations that had public online money donation components so that people could donate that way if they did not want to buy products, especially the men. By channelling money donation through those links it eliminated the responsibility of money handling and formal auditing processes.

To date we have four large basket worth of donations with products that include, tampons, pads, disposable bags, hand sanitiser, heat packs, hot water bottles and deodorant. Estimate > $700 worth of product and SPOT 2 Rolling Fund have pledged a financial donation.

Goals Achieved:

  • We drew on our skills garnered from the educational and training opportunities made possible by the MUA collective.
  •  We demonstrated the value of investing and embracing casual and permanent employed members, as most of the participants are currently or have been employed as casual or permeant part time crew.  
  • We organised individual active women to form a larger working collaborative group.
  • We identified and promoted our emerging female delegates and promoted female engagement.
  • We specifically addressed lifting the women’s profile in a male dominated industry/union.
  • We have positively promoted women’s social issues and empowered women along the way.
  • We have initiated positive relationships with community based organisations, that address social issues of inequity that align with our founding values.
  • We created positive discussion about vulnerable women in the community.
  • We were inspired by our proactive sisters in NSW, we passed it forward and hope to encourage more of our sisters across the nation to participate further.
  • We used affiliated MUA social media for GOOD DEEDS.  We promoted and shared our online material and responded positively to those that supported us online.
  • We encouraged and supported each other continuously throughout the campaign. Which lead to stronger bonds amongst our crew members. 

How can others organise:

  • Try to reach out to other women in your workspace that will be receptive.
  • Set a campaign time frame.
  • Approach your management about having public access in a communal area such as a mess room.
  • Monitor and manage the space.
  • Identify and approach those male members that will support your cause to reign some of the man-child responses. (plan ahead for those that are predictable, with witty responses).
  • Research facts. (Use our material if you want).
  • Research the organisation you want to donate to and make a connection.
  • Get creative and work collaboratively with your fellow workers. Find out what their hidden talents are, can they sing, rap, draw, IT magicians, witty writers for scripting, filming. Think big with the promo strategies and just go for it.
  • Try to include everyone.
  • Collect and then donate.
  • Future goals.
  • Multiple connections with reputable social organisations.
  • Multiple worksites promoting at state then national level.

e.g. All TT Line staff, all DP World, Patricks or QUBE and branch offices campaigning at the same time and include our sisters in our affiliate unions.

Special Recognition to the organisers Krista Grace, Jess Collis, Melissa McMullen, Sarah Ploughman, Brenda Easton, Bron Moore, Sharon Shumba, Jackie Sibbison, Bonnie Crow, Alisha Bull


Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney