- Rochelle Courtenay
Australia's 'pad lady' talks about the unspoken health condition affecting 1 in 3 women
When I first learnt of homeless women going without pads and tampons during their menstrual cycle, I realised that the question was not, “why is no one doing anything” but rather, “what’s stopping me from doing something?”
As a result, a simple idea of giving dignity to women led me to founding Share the Dignity; a charity that I am so proud of, and which has donated 3 million packets of pads and tampons to women and girls here in Australia.
Share the Dignity started small; real small! I started collecting pads and tampons in my local community of Sandgate, which is north of Brisbane, and shared these with local community shelters.
Working as a personal trainer, I used to ask my clients to donate a packet of pads or tampons for each wine they had drunk that week!
From small boxes on verandas to collection boxes in Woolworths stores nationwide the concept of helping women dealing with period and incontinence poverty has really resonated with the Australian community who donate products so generously in our Dignity Drives each March and August.
There’s no doubt that Share the Dignity has broken the silence about periods, and in doing so, has unlocked the incredible energy of women to bring about change. I have always known what women can do.
From my earliest school days, I’ve had an amazing group of friends, our love and support for each other is unconditional. When women support women, it feels like nothing can hold us back. We may be weak, but we are also strong. We are vulnerable, but we are also invincible. We know fear, but in its face we can be brave. We too often remain silent, but when we find our voice, we can change the world.
We also support women dealing with incontinence and who are struggling. With World Continence Week this year we had an amazing opportunity to work with female care brand, Always Discreet, who made a donation for every pack purchased in Woolworths and Chemist Warehouse stores during June.
Uncontrollable bladder leaks are an invisible, unspoken health condition that affect more than 1 in 3 women in Australia. We are thankful to Always Discreet for their much-needed donation, and the awareness a global brand like theirs can help to create as we continue our mission to make dignity an affordable and accessible right to all women.
Reflecting on where we have come from as a charity to where we are today still amazes me. I still don’t always sleep well. I worry that we will be able to afford to keep our Dignity Vending Machines filled so that no woman goes to a machine, and it is empty as we can’t afford to fill it. I get nervous each Christmas that we won’t meet the charity requests as I tentatively watch the tally on the donations of beautiful bags filled with the essentials and lovely gifts come in. I don’t want any woman, girls or new or expectant mum to miss out at Christmas. Christmas can be the toughest time in the year for so many people.
I couldn’t do what I do without my family, the passion and talent of our Share the Dignity team, a brilliant Board, over 5000 volunteers and a community that has joined our mission to end period poverty.