Just over a year ago, Rochelle Courtenay read that homeless women weren’t able to afford pads and tampons, and were using rolled-up toilet paper and newspaper instead.
Shocked at the thought that this was happening in Australia, she founded the charity Share The Dignity to do something about the problem. But in the past year, she’s learnt how big the problem really is. It’s not just homeless women who can’t afford sanitary items. It’s women living on drought-affected farms, who are cutting up old towels to make their own pads. It’s also teenage girls from poverty-stricken families.
“They weren’t going to school,” Courtenay, herself a mum to two teenage girls, tells The Motherish. “We’re hearing that in so many areas, and that, to me, is criminal. There’s too much value in educating girls.”
Share The Dignity has grown rapidly from its small beginnings. Courtenay held her first collection in her neighbourhood early last year and ended up with 450 packets of pads.
“We were high-fiving ourselves all over the place,” she remembers. “They were gone in a heartbeat, obviously.”
A second collection in the middle of last year saw a massive 150,000 packets of pads and tampons being stockpiled. But by the end of November, they'd all been used up.
Courtenay has seen firsthand how much pads and tampons can mean to women who can't afford them. She remembers meeting a homeless woman, fleeing domestic violence with her two children, who had only one tampon for her next period. She'd found it on the toilet floor of a surf club.
Courtenay was able to offer her packets of sanitary items.
"She was hysterically crying because she could take whatever she wanted," she remembers. "Now that’s pretty sad when pads and tampons make you that emotional."