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I am, of late, astoundingly well-organised. Yes, as a result of the early 2015 Great Storage Epoch (and a small window of opportunityFullSizeRender-3 between writing books) I have been beating off the jabberwocky of encroaching domestic chaos, on fronts both big and medium sized, and small.

And, indeed, smalls. For among other things, I have revolutionized my knicker drawer. No longer is it a formless rolling sea of untamed underthings. It is a thing of beauty, of order, of architecturally-hewn restraint. It is, finally, fit for frilly purpose.

It is also compartmentalized, which is always a good thing for a knicker drawer to be, avoiding both the obvious pitfalls of not being able to find that particularly cherished black pair among the crowd of lesser black pairs, and the less obvious pitfall of ‘reluctant burrowing thong’, which law states that the thong you want for that all-too-imminent aerobics class will have not only found its way to the furthest reaches of the drawer but will also have disguised itself as a scrunchie or suspender belt. For thongs are evil and this is the kind of thing they do.

My chosen compartments – courtesy IKEA – are as simple as they’re sound. The mainstream and much-loved, naturally sub-categorized ‘black’ and ‘other’, the specialist (those hated thongs, the ‘engineering’ section), the VPL pile (oft required, much reviled for their wedginess) , and the optimistic (pants bought in haste, but repented at leisure – chiefly in the matter of remembering whose lumpen body such beguiling wisps of pant-hood were to be applied).

Then, of course, there is the Zone Brassiere.

Like most women in the developed world, I have a complicated relationship with my upper body undies. The mainstays (and they are, too) of the vexed world of feminine scaffolding, bras are necessary, revered even, for their magical properties. But oh, how fabulous they are to sling off at the end of the day, in the manner of a spent medieval jouster, shedding armour, while crying ‘mon dieu, je suis tres glad to get that lot off!’ (As historians will know, most medievals spoke early Franglish.)

My bra zone is equally well organised. The ones I like to wear (numbering no more than three at any given time, if that) and the ones I thought I might, but don’t because they are basically ‘a bit grrr’. (Much polka-dotted, lace-bedecked, itchy-scratchy stuff resides there.) Finally, there’s the odds-and-sods nook for sundry strappage and joinage, which, because I dress shop a great deal more savvily than I used to, barely ever needs to see the light of day.

And what of it? This small homage to organising smalls? Well, it’s because yesterday, on my virtual travels, I was arrested by a website. Of a self-described ‘young charity’ (which appeals to me immediately) set up by a woman who’s spent time volunteering in the third world, and whose mission, put simply, is to get our unwanted underwear to Africa. Or, as she puts it, to deliver ‘smalls for all’.

As with most contrasts these days between the first world and the third, there is nothing new or shocking in the fact that African women and children lack pants. Of course they do. They lack almost everything we tend to take for granted – a fact we probably take for granted too.

Yet, spelled out, it was both unsettling and welcome to be reminded that, in places like Kenya, Ethiopia and Malawi, women and children often have just one tatty pair to their name, and that’s if they have pants at all.

Then there are bras. Well, actually, it turns out that there are not. Which is a bigger deal that perhaps people realise. Because in such places a bra, being so expensive, confers status – and not in the way a Chanel handbag might do.

It says ‘I am not alone. I can afford underwear because there is a man in my life. A father, husband, or brother, who can protect me’.

In short, where pants bring welcome health benefits, increase school attendance and restore feminine dignity, a bra adds even more. It gives vulnerable women and girls some much needed security. The naked truth? That the impulse buy that sits unloved and unworn in my drawer could, if re-homed, protect a girl from being raped.

Sobering, no? And a kick up the backside to further sort out my smalls. Some into a box, bound for the post office,right away.

www.smallsforall.org

First published in the Western Mail ‘Weekend’ Magazine,

8th August 2015

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