Guest Blogger Rochelle Courtenay, founder of charity Share the Dignity, shares some thoughts on her big wake-up call
It was an ordinary day in 2015 and I was reading one of my favourite blogs, Mamma Mia
. I can truly say that day was to change my life.
The blog featured an article about the plight of homeless women who have no money to buy a woman’s basic necessities: pads or tampons for their menstrual period.
I had never thought about this. In fact, I’d never really thought much about homeless people, let alone the fact that women force to sleep rough and women in domestic violence shelters were without the basic human necessities of sanitary items. I thought it was ridiculous that in 2015 this would be an issue.
We’ve all had the experience of our period coming on unexpectedly and having to make a mad dash to the nearest chemist or shop to buy pads. But there are thousands of women who don’t have this option. I suddenly imagined what it must be like to start menstruating in a public place, like a park, or a bus shelter, or in a shared room in an overnight hostel. You have to use toilet paper or newspaper to stuff into your underpants. You can’t wash your clothes. If there’s a stain on the bedsheet overnight, as there so often is, you feel mortified, as you can’t wash it out. I knew how I’d feel if that were me. And I thought: ‘This is terrible. Someone should do something’.
And then I realised - that someone was me.
My ‘tipping point’ really was that I did not want my daughters ever hearing about this in 10 years’ time and saying ‘I’d never thought of that.’”
I was already involved with a Gold Coast charity, Assist A Sista,
which helps women affected by domestic violence, so I was able to reach out through them to get a group of women together to help. We ran a collection drive in Brisbane in 1 March 2015. More than 400 packages of pads and tampons were donated. It was pretty easy – and it was something everyone can afford – less than a cup of good coffee.
Just after we’d given out all our supplies, we were contacted by a few domestic violence shelters asking if we had any more sanitary items and we had to say no. We decided never wanted to say no again.
I’d set up a Facebook page, so that people who had donated could be updated on what had happened to their donations. It just went mad - within a few weeks we had more than 5,000 followers, and we had so many requests from people who wanted to donate. From then on, I knew that we had something that was bigger than just a few of us, and had to be an on-going thing.
So we set up Share the Dignity – I chose the name because I was passionate about sharing – some would say nagging- with everyone I came across that the situation of women without menstrual supplies isn’t every okay. It strikes at the heart of a woman’s dignity and self-respect.
Two years later, Share the Dignity now has over 90 000 followers. We’ve collected close to 400, 000 packets of pads and tampons - that’s $2 million worth of goods that have gone directly to homeless women.
Do we still need help? We surely do. Our next collection drive starts on 1 April.
Visit our Facebook page to see where you can donate in your area. Follow us to keep up with what we’re doing through the year – our May DigniTeas and our September Yoga4Dignity events.
Most of all, please talk about us to your friends and family, and ask them to donate too. After all, no menstruating woman in Australia in 2017 should have to stuff her knickers with newspaper.