Rochelle Courtenay is the Founder and CEO of the national charity Share the Dignity.
From a grass roots idea to supply sanitary items to homeless women in her local QLD suburb, Rochelle’s charity has grown to include more than 3000 volunteers participating in multiple initiatives across Australia, all with a focus on giving dignity to Women. Share the Dignity has successfully collected and distributed over 1 million packets of pads and tampons and a further 250,000 handbags full of essential items to Women in need.
Rochelle’s can do attitude and her ability to inspire her team to get behind this worthwhile mission was evident when she championed the lobbying of the Federal Government to #axethetax on female sanitary items – which was confirmed earlier this month and will come in to effect from 1 January 2019.
Q: Hi Rochelle. Where did the idea to hand out sanitary items to homeless women come from and what you were doing at the time?
A: I was reading an article on MammaMia about how hard it is for homeless women to manage their periods, as they do not have access to the sanitary items that we do. I was horrified, it was something I’d never even thought about. I took managing my period for granted, and just assumed others did. My first thought was someone should do something about this, and then I realised that someone was me. I for sure did not want my daughters reading about this in 10 years’ time and for it to still be an issue.
Q: Now the organisation has grown with 3000 volunteers and is a national organisation. For many of us the idea of taking our side hustle or small business full time is such an overwhelming idea. What was it that propelled you forward to take this idea and grow it to a national charity on a full-time basis?
A: I was propelled to take Share the Dignity forward by the idea that no matter how many sanitary items we have donated to us and then distributed to girls and women in need throughout Australia, it is never enough. There will also be girls and women who need sanitary items so Share the Dignity has to continue to assist them. It really wasn’t about me, or you it’s about the women and girls who don’t have the ability to help themselves right now and so it was obvious to me it’s more how can I not do it!
Q: You’ve said all women deserve dignity and I couldn’t agree more and I know many women at The Network agree too. Why are you so passionate about helping women? Where does that desire to serve come from?
A: I am a very passionate person but when I was made aware that homeless women and women in domestic violence shelters were without sanitary items, this drove my passion even further. I thought that it was ridiculous that in 2015 this would be an issue. I also am very passionate about the removal of the tampon tax I find it embarrassing, disappointing that in Australia we are even having to fight this battle. It shouldn’t be about money, it should be about what is our human rights.
*Since this interview, it has been confirmed that GST will be removed from sanitary items from 1 January 2019 thanks to Rochelle and her team’s dedication.
Q: When you first started, how did you gain traction for the charity and have it taken seriously in order to attract thousands of volunteers and donations to support women? What was the best source of PR or marketing for you to get the word out?
If it wasn’t for Facebook we just wouldn’t exist. It was really about writing posts that people could relate to they are all written by me we have never had a PR company or someone run our social media. The stories the WHY are what gains the most traction.
Q: Now Share the Dignity funds funerals for homeless women or victims of domestic violence, was this always part of your plan or was a natural evolution – something you noticed that needed to be done?
A: No, it was never part of the plan we were set up to Share the Dignity. And for me that meant collect pads and tampons and do our ItsInTheBag Xmas appeal. But when I sat in my car listening to families beg for money to pay for funerals of their mum/sister/friend it saddened me, where is the dignity in that, both for the family and for the person killed by Domestic Violence? I wish we never had to do it but no one else was going to so we expanded the scope of what share the Dignity does.
Q: What have been some of the biggest learning curves and challenges you’ve faced since starting the charity?
A: The problem just seems to get bigger and bigger and there seems no end in sight. The mistakes we have made we have certainly learnt from.
Q: What changes have you noticed across the political landscape since starting Share the Dignity – are homeless women and victims of domestic violence gaining more support?
A: PPPPffffffttttt changes, women? No nothing. We are talking about homelessness and periods, a topic the politicians do not want to discuss. We have helped solve a problem in Australia with over 20 million dollars’ worth of donations and monies spent to help women and girls doing it tough. A mighty effort from those that cared in Australia but certainly not tied up with the “political landscape”.
Q: What professional networks and relationships do have in place to keep you inspired and to keep going when going gets tough? How do you handle challenges?
A: When I started Share the Dignity, I was very clear and a bit dreamy with WHO I wanted as Ambassadors, and WHO I wanted as Corporate Partners. I found every possible way I could contact them, through Facebook, Instagram, their agents, and then I continually put shout-outs on social media and kept putting it out to the universe asking if anyone knew them, to introduce us. Clearly the bigger Share the Dignity got, the more that happened.
I set weekly, monthly and yearly goals, as I find that is a great way to motivate yourself. Letting other people know what your goal is, is a little like telling someone you are going on a diet – it’s accountability.
When I don’t reach my goals, I reassess the objective, work out why I haven’t reached it yet and find another way. My biggest lessons are from mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make them.
Q: What is in the future for Share the Dignity – what would you like to see happen for women across the country?
A: I would like to become redundant. I would like every woman and girl have access to sanitary items, to live in a home they feel safe and valued in. ALAS we can dream right? I want the removal of the GST on sanitary items. I want to be able to collect enough sanitary items to ensure every woman and girl experiencing homelessness, poverty, fleeing domestic violence to ensure we can supply these women with a basic human right.
Q: How can people get involved now?
A: There are so many ways people can help us, and we appreciate any help from any person. You can attend our events, support our activities, make an online donation, or become a Share the Dignity volunteer. Our volunteers, or Sheros as we call them, are our lifeblood, we couldn’t do what we do without them.
Visit Share The Dignity for more information.