Charitable organisation Share the Dignity is holding a Dignity Drive this month to collect sanitary products for Australian women and girls who are homeless or living under the poverty line, and they hope everyone in the nation will take part.
The country-wide collection drive, which runs until the end of August, aims to end “period poverty” for Australian women and girls, by collecting and delivering donated sanitary products to nominated local charities and distribution points around the country.
People are encouraged to take part in the collection drive by buying an extra packet of sanitary products when they do their grocery shopping and placing them in the pink collection boxes at the front of their local Woolworths store.
There are currently 3.2 million Australians living below the poverty line, and more than half of them are female.
Share the Dignity founder and managing director Rochelle Courtenay, who is also known as the “Pad Lady”, makes it her business to remind people that menstrual periods don’t just stop when you are homeless.
“[Women] are using socks and newspaper and wadded up toilet paper to deal with their period and still to this day I am shocked that this is happening in Australia,” Ms Courtenay said.
Ms Courtenay said the problem of “period poverty” was not a female issue, but a societal issue, and said it was important to remind all Australians that even if you don’t get a period you were born from someone who did.
She said that the more help Share the Dignity received, the further their work could spread.
“I hope that we be made redundant, that poverty didn’t exist and that homelessness didn’t exist,” Ms Courtenay said.
“But I know that’s never going to happen, so my goal is to make sure that there isn’t a woman in Australia who doesn’t know about us, because I do not believe that there is a woman in Australia who wouldn’t just buy a packet of pads or tampons and helps us to make a difference,” she said.
This month marks the first time Woolworths Supermarkets have partnered with the charity as the official collection point for all donations.
In a press release Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters announced the partnership and pledged the chain’s ongoing support to the charity.
“We’re committed long term to supporting Share the Dignity in their aim to end period poverty for Australian women,” Ms Peters said in the statement.
“We know that small dignities can make a big different and we urge our generous customers for their support in offering a small act of kindness this month to give back dignity to Australia’s most vulnerable women,” she said.
Along with offering collection boxes at every Woolworths store, the supermarket chain will also donate five cents from the sale of all sanitary items sold throughout the duration of the August drive to Share the Dignity.
Ms Courtenay said helping was as easy as thinking “one for me, one for her” while doing your grocery shopping.
“It is our job as women and as sisters to just help these women and buy a packet of pads and tampons, and talk about the subject and ensure that there isn’t a woman in Australia that doesn’t know about it.”
Ms Courtenay said it was learning about the frightening number of women in Australia who are homeless or living below the poverty line that was the catalyst behind her starting the charity in 2015.
“I started collecting amongst my local community in Sandgate and we collected 450 packets of pads and tampons, and we worked with five different charities in the local area to get them out to ensure that those women were helped,” Ms Courtenay said.
When the charity first began, Courtenay and her volunteers put cardboard boxes on their verandahs for locals to drop off their donations.
With the growth of the charity, the number of collection points and donations increased, enabling Share the Dignity to become a nation-wide initiative that runs two collection drives per year, in April and in August.
“If we fast forward now four years, we are looking at this national charity that has collected nearly two million packets of pads and tampons,” Ms Courtenay said.
“Poverty is on such a rise where so many mums out there can’t afford to put food on the table and fuel in their car and take their kids to school, so even sanitary items, they just don’t get them,” she said.
Share the Dignity volunteer Melanie Hollman said it was incredible to see the charity grow and said she was inspired by the impact of their work.
“Every woman, once it’s brought to their attention, understands just how horrible it would be to not be able to afford sanitary products,” Ms Hollman said.
“People are very generous and it’s beautiful; you go into a collection point and empty the box when it’s full and honestly it just brings you to tears,” she said.
Volunteer Melanie Barnes said she believed it was important to include younger generations in these projects in order for them to understand their privilege and break the stigma of period poverty.
“The thing I feel the strongest about is getting younger girls in helping,” Ms Barnes said.
“Volunteering is such a needed thing; we all get so absorbed in our own lives and our own world, and it’s so easy for teenagers to become tightly wrapped up in themselves,” she said.
“If we can encourage more of them to jump in and help, we can raise more aware young women.”
The goal of the August drive is to collect 200,000 packets of pads and tampons, which Ms Courtenay said was enough to provide for 50,000 women for four months.
“This is a really big number, but when you break it down to the fact that we’re not giving away a warm jacket and it’s keeping somebody warm for years, we’re dealing with a monthly problem that is much greater than you or I will ever know,” Ms Courtenay said.
Both Rochelle Courtenay and her volunteers said one of the biggest problems associated with period poverty was that young girls are skipping school because they couldn’t afford to manage their periods.
With funds raised throughout the year, Share the Dignity is also able to install free sanitary vending machines in schools to counteract this problem.
“By helping to deal with period poverty, we’re not putting a roof over their head, but we are giving them one less thing to worry about,” Ms Hollman said.
Donations to the August Dignity Drive can be made to your local Woolworths store.
Visit www.sharethedignity.com.au to find out more about Share the Dignity and how you can help.
Share the Dignity will also run a special national fundraising event, Yoga4Dignity, on August 31.