It was 2015 when Brisbane mum Rochelle Courtenay read a news story she couldn’t quite shake.
Each month Australia’s homeless and disadvantaged women were struggling to afford sanitary products.
Faced with the choice of buying food or purchasing tampons and pads, many were simply “making do” - improvising using toilet paper, socks or whatever was at hand.
In a country as well off as Australia, Rochelle was shocked at the trauma, the embarrassment and the indignity of their plight.
“Enough was enough,” she reflected. “Someone should do something”.
For more than three years that “someone” has been Rochelle Courtenay, whose “something” is the charity Share the Dignity.
Share the Dignity’s aim is to assist disadvantaged and impoverished Australian women through ready access to sanitary products.
What initially started as a Facebook page and a call for donations from clients, neighbours and friends has grown to encompass over 4000 volunteers, who collect, sort, register and distribute donated packs of tampons and pads to homeless shelters and disadvantaged communities.
To date over 1.5 million packets of tampons and pads have been distributed nationally, with collection points at businesses, schools and locations across the nation.
In 2017, Share the Dignity’s push to end period poverty broadened when it came to the organisation’s attention girls and young women in poorer communities were skipping school because they didn’t have the means to manage their monthly period.
Rochelle came up with the idea of installing vending machines in schools and shelters to discreetly distribute packs of sanitary products for free.
The machines remove the stigma of having to ask the school nurse or shelter staff for tampons or pads. Importantly, they help ensure no girl misses out on education because they are female and disadvantaged.
Costing $10,000 each, the machines are purpose-made. By the end of 2017, 50 had been installed across Australia. By the end of last year, the organisation had funded 100 vending machines for schools, domestic violence refuges, homeless hubs, and community centres.
Late last year the tampon tax was finally abolished in Australia and a major instigator of its removal was Share the Dignity.
For years women had been calling for it to be scrapped but when PM Malcolm Turnbull noted he had heard “very little noise on the issue”, Share the Dignity knew they needed to act. The group created the #axethetaxperiod hashtag and established a Federal petition.
Women from all over the country jumped on board, with 100,000 signing the document.
Finally, after almost 20 years of a tax on what was a monthly staple for nearly all women of childbearing age, the tampon tax was scrapped in October last year.
Share the Dignity may be achieving many of its aims, but the organisation has its eye firmly on the future. More vending machines are on the horizon, more disadvantaged women are in their sights and international initiatives are on the agenda.
This year, Rochelle hopes to take the initiative overseas to places like Jamaica, the UK, the US and India after recently being invited to speak in Miami.
“We are leading the world in tackling period poverty,” she notes. “Now the question is how do we wrap up what we’ve done and
In the interim, Share the Dignity continues to collect and distribute tampons and pads. Each year it also hosts a Christmas “It’s in the bag” campaign where people donate handbags filled with tampons, pads and other hygiene essentials.
The charity raises money to roll out more vending machines in schools, and will this year measure the impact on absenteeism.
The resolution that “enough is enough” remains and the relentless drive to do “something” about period poverty continues.
From donating pads and tampons, to corporate partnerships, and volunteering to assist with the collection and distribution of sanitary products, there are a wealth of ways to help Share the Dignity improve the lives of disadvantaged Australian women and girls.
More information is available at www.sharethedignity.com.au.
And watch this space…over the coming days, Dear Molly will bring you an interview with Rochelle Courtenay - the woman behind Share the Dignity.