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Rochelle Courtenay: Supporting Dignity and Menstrual Equity for All

Rochelle Courtenay: Supporting Dignity and Menstrual Equity for All

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, and Changemakers who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Rochelle Courtenay, the founder and managing director of Share the Dignity. Let’s learn what’s happening at Share the Dignity and how Rochelle is making a positive impact in the world.

Spiffy: Hi Rochelle, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through Share the Dignity?

Rochelle: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! I started Share the Dignity in 2015 after reading an article about homeless women having difficulty managing their period. Instead of thinking “why is no one doing anything about this,” I thought “what is stopping me from doing something,” and decided to take action. The first year I collected 450 period products and distributed them to local charities in my area. Over 6,000 volunteers have now joined me to ensure menstrual equity for all, and thanks to their selflessness and generosity we have been able to collect over four million period products and over 800,000 bags filled with essential items for the people we support.

Spiffy: More strength to you! What would you say motivates you to do it?

Rochelle: Every single time I am feeling rundown, I meet someone who has been impacted by Share the Dignity’s work or see a photo of a recipient of our support, and it completely lifts my spirits. It makes me stop and think “this is why I do this.” I am always motivated by the people on the receiving end of our support. Through Share the Dignity I have met so many incredible people who have been faced with such adversity, and the gratefulness they show for a packet of pads or tampons, or a bag filled with essential items, keeps me going.

Spiffy: Can you elaborate on the impact of your work?

Rochelle: Our work helps to ensure that people can manage their period with dignity. No one should have to use socks, newspapers, or wadded-up toilet paper for their period—and with the support of people across the nation, we are able to ensure that fewer people have to. I also strongly believe in ensuring that people have free and dignified access to period products. I was in a charity a few years ago and saw a woman go up to the counter and ask for period products. She was very loudly asked if she wanted pads or tampons and you could see her recoil in embarrassment. From that interaction, I had the idea for the Dignity Vending Machine which dispenses free period packs at the push of a button. We now have 412 machines installed nationwide.

Spiffy: Wow, that’s incredibly thoughtful and useful. Can you share another example of a recent organization milestone or initiative, and the impact it has made on your community?

Rochelle: Reaching four million period products donated and distributed to our charity partners was a big milestone for me. It is hard to comprehend the number of lives we have touched by simply providing a basic necessity. I hope to see a day when the government ensures free and dignified access to period products Australia-wide, but until then it is wonderful to know that so many kind-hearted people are willing to support us so we can ensure no one has to go without the most basic essentials.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Rochelle: A huge achievement was working collectively to ax the tax on period products. For years people had been lobbying for change, but this time round the roar was louder and finally our voices were heard. On October 3, 2018, the fight was finally over. The bill was successful, and the tax was abolished by state and federal governments. Finally, pads and tampons were no longer considered “luxury items.” The ‘tampon tax’ was officially removed as of January 1, 2019. Now we are working to #PadUpPublicHealth, where we are calling on the government to ensure that pads and tampons are provided in hospitals nationwide, after hearing harrowing stories of people being told there are no period products available when bleeding in a hospital bed.

Spiffy: Here’s to a continued impact! Thanks for speaking with me today, Rochelle—it’s been an honor!

Rochelle Courtenay is the founder and managing director of Share the Dignity, a national charity founded in 2015. Share the Dignity brings dignity to those who menstruate who are experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness, domestic violence, or poverty, through the distribution of period products and #ItsintheBag donations filled with essential items. (First published on the Ladderworks website on August 8, 2023.)

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of Ladderworks LLC.

© 2023 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Anushree Nande. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.