It’s been three years since I first read the article published by Mamamia talking about the 44,000 homeless women that were having to go without a bed to sleep in and a shower to clean themselves.
Wow, where have those three years gone?
I was a bit foolish to believe I could solve this problem. You see, back then I thought ‘right 44,000 homeless women, surely, they don’t all menstruate right? So that’s maybe 30,000 that need our help monthly’. Doable, I thought.
But the sad reality is the problem is so much bigger than I ever imagined and starting Share the Dignity was simply scratching the surface. More than 175,000 women turned to homelessness services last year, a staggering number.
That doesn’t include the drought-stricken farming girls and women using towels – not towels you and I would have in our cupboards, we are talking spit through towels that are cut up and used – because putting food on their table is far more important to them than the dignity they deserve to deal with their period.
Nor does it include the grand problem that exists in our remote Indigenous communities or Indigenous communities full stop. This is a problem all on its own and the numbers of girls and women going without is too great to measure.
Hear Rochelle talk about why access to sanitary items can really make a difference in the lives of women and girls below. Post continues after video.
You would think in this instance we could just supply them with pads, tampons, menstrual cups and reusable pads, and hope this would fix the problem but that is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lack of education and culturally sensitive information around menstrual hygiene. There is also the problem of how do they dispose of sanitary items when bins are not sometimes available and toilets also do not work.
Last month, a school chaplain we were working with to get access to sanitary items into an Indigenous school told us about her friend, a 13-year-old girl who used the same tampon for two days because she had no access to sanitary products.
We also woke to a message a few weeks ago about a woman who had fled domestic violence and is now living in her own safe haven with her three daughters, but clearly living well below the poverty line.
Her 11-year-old daughter got her period for the first time. This mum then made the heartbreaking choice to feed her children before buying sanitary items. She had to cut down a large pad to make three makeshift pads for her daughter’s little underpants and sticky tape it in. The thought of how this would feel makes my stomach churn.
These stories are endless and that number I first thought attainable has grown bigger than Ben Hur! I feel like we are putting out spot fires all over the nation and we are feeling very overwhelmed.
But Share the Dignity is proud as punch that we have collected over one million packets of pads and tampons and 2,000 menstrual cups since we started. At the same time, we’re sad that our sheds are empty and our stockpile is at an end. If we all just contributed one packet of tampons or pads, the difference that can make to a girl or woman cannot be measured.
This April we are installing 10 Dignity Vending Machines, or what we called the #pinkbox, which dispense a free, small, precious pack of two pads and six tampons which is enough for what we guesstimate is the “norm” for one day. There are already 30 #pinkbox machines across Australia and this additional 10 will help us to further end period poverty in Australia.
We are thrilled with comments from schools where the machines are already installed that they have seen a drop-in absenteeism and the girls speak more openly about menstruation to help to shift the shame that goes back centuries. The domestic violence shelter in far north Queensland where we have a #pinkbox installed has one of the highest rates of usage, and whilst that saddens me it, also fills my heart with joy because we really can make a difference to our sisters who need us.
We’re aiming to raise funds for a further 30 #pinkbox machines this year and we’re doing that by holding events and selling our amazing range of Handbags with Heart which are both practical and stylish while helping women in need at the same time.
We need more help. Your help. Because small dignities make a big difference to women just like you.
To support Share the Dignity in providing sanitary items to homeless women and victims of domestic violence, please visit sharethedignity.com.au to find out where your nearest collection point is to donate sanitary items to the April Dignity Drive. You can also follow their good work on Facebook and Instagram. Rochelle Courtenay is the founder of Share the Dignity.
P.S. Mia Freedman spoke to another woman doing incredible things for women’s health, her cousin Syl, about discovering she had endometriosis, how it affected her period, and how she’s making changes for other women below.