Rochelle Courtenay is the Founder & Managing Director of Australian Charity Share the Dignity. This is her story.
Rochelle is the Founder and Managing Director of Share the Dignity. Share the Dignity is an Australian charity founded in 2015 with the mission to ensure that everyone is afforded the dignity in life that so many of us take for granted. Share the Dignity brings dignity to women and girls experiencing homelessness, domestic violence, and period poverty through the distribution of period products. Share the Dignity is powered by volunteers, and through Rochelle’s contagious spirit over 6000 volunteers have jumped on board to help ‘share the dignity’.
As well as holding biannual collections for period products nationwide, Rochelle is passionate about advocating for change and creating long-term solutions. Share the Dignity successfully advocated to axe the tax on period products, with the GST on period products being removed in early 2019. Additionally, Share the Dignity has been advocating for free period products in schools for years and since then many states have begun implementing programs. Most recently, after finding out that patients in Australian hospitals were being denied period products and instead being given diapers, gauze, bed pads and towels Share the Dignity has turned its focus to advocating for pads to be provided to patients for free in Australian public hospitals.
Tell us where your journey started?
The one thing I always wanted to be was a mum, but it didn’t come easily for me. I had debilitating endometriosis and spent over 5 years trying to fall pregnant. I was incredibly heartbroken every month when I picked up the pregnancy test and saw it was negative. When I eventually fell pregnant with my first daughter I was nothing short of elated. I ended up having two beautiful girls. Being a mum is my favourite job in the world… well it was until I became a grandmother. The love I have for my little family is out of this world.
Outside of being a mum I have had a lot of different focuses over the years. I played netball from when I was 10 years old until I was 50. I played and coached, and my daughters played it as well, it consumed a lot of our lives. It was sad when I had to hang up the netball dress and retire after my 6 th knee operation. I still miss it. I also spent a few years working for myself as a personal trainer, in fact I was still working as a personal trainer when I started Share the Dignity. I was always passionate about helping people and over the years that has taken many different forms. While starting a charity may seem totally left-field I think the key similarity is having a positive impact on someone’s life.
What led you to create your business/or work in the field you are in?
I didn’t know a lot about period poverty in Australia before I started Share the Dignity. I was reading a Mamamia article in 2015 about the difficulty homeless women face in managing their periods and how some had to use socks and newspaper instead of pads and tampons. I was embarrassed that had never crossed my mind before. But I have always been a solutions-focused person, so I decided nothing was stopping me from doing something.
I was a personal trainer at the time and asked my clients to bring me a packet of pads or tampons for every glass of wine they drank in a month. In that month I collected 450 packets of pads and delivered them to local shelters. Word spread quickly and Share the Dignity grew right before my eyes. I think women really connected to the idea of helping other women. I am blown away by how far we have come and am so thankful that we now have over 6,000 volunteers Australia-wide.
Since August 2015 we have been running biannual dignity drives where people can donate pads, tampons, menstrual cups, period underwear and incontinence aids at collection points nationwide. So far we have collected over 3.4 million period products.
Then in late 2015 I was cleaning out my bathroom cupboard and saw how many unopened shampoos, conditioners, soaps and makeup I had in my cupboard. I also had a number of barely used handbags. And from there our next initiative, #ItsInTheBag, was born. In November people across the country can donate an #ItsInTheBag for someone in need at their local Bunnings. The bags are filled with essential items like period products, shampoo and conditioner, toothpaste/toothbrush, soap and deodorant, as well as special items like a book, nail polish, mascara or stationery etc.
What are you passionate about and what are you hoping to achieve in the future
I am passionate about being a voice for change and improving the lives of women and girls. There are so many things I would like to achieve through Share the Dignity. In the short term, I want to see our #PadUpPublicHealth campaign be a success and for free pads to be provided to patients when they ask for them in every public hospital in Australia. We have also recently launched Dress for Dignity, a pre-loved fashion marketplace. So I am so excited to see that grow and see the ripple effect it will have on our little charity. Every year we have a gap of about 40,000 #ItsInTheBags so I am excited to see that narrow with the profits raised through Dress for Dignity.
In the longer term, I would love to see a day when our charity is no longer needed in the same capacity it is now. We shouldn’t have to rely on generous Australians to ensure those experiencing homelessness, fleeing domestic violence or doing it tough have access to period products. We will always evolve and grow based on need, but I would love to see a day when there isn’t a pressing need for what we are campaigning for at the moment. I think it will happen eventually, when women work together, incredible things happen.
What advice do you have for other women 40+ who are wanting to make an impact in the community or the world?
Put simply, it’s never too late. I was 44 when I started Share the Dignity and I am blown away by how far we come in 7 short years. Nothing is stopping you from making a difference and creating change except for your own pre-conceived limitations.
You can follow Rochelle and Share the Dignity here: