Rochelle Courtenay is the Founder and Managing Director of Share the Dignity, a Charity Organization that aims to provide sanitary items to women in need all across Australia. Today, they work alongside over 3000 Charities with the help of over 5500 Volunteers.
In this interview, Rochelle reflects on the journey that led to founding Share the Dignity, and her hopes for women’s rights in Australia.
In 2015 you founded Share the Dignity which has since made a huge difference in the lives of disadvantaged women across the country. What inspired you to found this organization?
In all honesty, I couldn’t believe that women in Australia were struggling to access sanitary products. It feels like a problem that would only happen in a developing country. Still, in reality, 25% of women in Australia have said that they have either gone without products or had to leave products in for longer because they couldn’t afford proper access to period care. It’s especially a reality faced by homeless women across the country, and in 2019, 173,000 women had to turn to homelessness services. Yet, it isn’t just a problem faced by the homeless. Three million Australians, half of which are likely menstruating women, live below the poverty line. While many of them have homes, they are still facing these problems.
For me, it was astounding to find out how many people were affected by the inaccessibility of period products.
What have been some of the highlights of managing Share the Dignity so far?
For me, it truly has been all of the friendships that I have made with the volunteers that have come on board. It’s amazing to work with people who are passionate about the same causes that you are passionate about. I can honestly say that I could go anywhere in Australia and have someone to have a coffee with. I really see that as a privilege for me.
On your website, you discuss how the past ten years have really been transformative for you. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I feel so lucky to have the life that I have. It’s easy to feel inspired by those around me. I've got beautiful adult children, I'm a grandmother, I have amazing friends and I have an amazing life. I love Share the Dignity like it's one of my own children. It's never hard when you love what you're doing.
Something that you focus on a lot in your work is education. Periods have always been taboo in society and this has done a lot of damage on how this is perceived in public opinion. What impact have you been able to make?
Addressing period poverty requires us to get access to sanitary items for women and girls and those who are menstruating, but it also requires removing the shame and stigma surrounding periods. To me, this is something that can only be done through education. We really can't just fix period poverty by addressing one of those problems, we have to try to address all of them.
For us, this has meant that we've started to work with education departments around Australia to implement Period Talk, a fully comprehensive, fun, engaging and informative menstruation specific education program aimed at boys and girls in years 5-9.
I think one of my proudest accomplishments by way of education was the Period Pride campaign, a national survey that was designed to help us understand the shame people who menstruate experience and how it can impact their lives. We ended up partnering with Facebook, the world’s biggest communicator, for this campaign and have since received 125,000 responses. It was truly a bloody big survey and is now the biggest body of data around menstruation, in the world.
(Check out the survey results here):
Do you have any role models or mentors who you look up to?
I’d have to say Janine Allis from Boost Juice. I really admire her tenacity and her ability to follow through on her business visions. I was really interested in meeting her so I really put that energy out into the universe, and Facebook, and asked if anyone could put me in touch with Janine.
Low and behold, one of my friends had met Janine on Shark Tank and offered to introduce us. So I did get to spend a couple of hours with Janine and we had the most amazing discussions about our respective organizations.
She was so taken aback that whilst lots of charities have great hearts, many of them lack good business sense. In my eyes, this charity is a business, it's just in the business of making a difference. So it’s so important for me to make sure it had sustainability and goals and achievable ways of being able to create the change that we wanted.
Chatting with Janine really helped me learn a lot, I think it’s so important to use these connections that we have to learn and grow as people.
What would be your advice to other young women looking to make an impact and start an NFP/charity?
Surround yourself with amazing women. Make sure that when you're in the room, you show up and network like you've never networked before.