This International Women’s Day, we are celebrating inspirational women who are empowering others, striving for change, and advocating for equality.
Rochelle Courtenay is the founder and Managing Director of Share the Dignity – an Australian women's charity that makes a real, on-the-ground difference to homeless women and victims of domestic violence. Share The Dignity collects thousands of pads, tampons and personal hygiene products every year for women experiencing homelessness and poverty. Share the Dignity also fund funerals for victims of domestic violence and campaign for justice for women in Australia.
However, the title Rochelle is most proud of is,‘Pad Lady.’ This ultimately began to stick when Rochelle started collecting sanitary items and distributing these to local shelters, after learning about the obscene amount of homeless women going without basic sanitary items during their menstrual cycle. Consequently, Share the Dignity has grown into a national charity with over 3,000 volunteers Australia-wide.
We spoke to Rochelle about what motivated her to instigate such an important cause, how we can create balance in business, and what International Women’s Day means to her.
1. What motivated you to start the charity, Share The Dignity?
Did you know that 27% of Australian girls don’t go to school, because they don’t have access to sanitary items? Yep – fact. And I just couldn’t believe that was happening in Australia, and not enough was being done about it. That’s when I decided that something had to change.
2. How do you hope to empower women through Share The Dignity?
Share The Dignity empowers women on a number of levels; the woman who is empowered by being able to directly help somebody - our 3,000 Sheroes/ Heroes (volunteers) are empowered every day because they are making a direct difference in the world they live in. The women we empower by giving them the very basic of essentials they deserve and need in day-to-day life. In that sense I’m not sure if, ‘empowered’ is the right word, but just by providing them with the necessary items, we’re providing them with an undeniable sense of dignity.
3. You’re changing women’s lives. How does that make you feel?
It actually makes me feel very selfish, because it makes me feel so good inside to be able to habitually help women.
4. How do you think we can create balance in business, and in leadership positions, to create a better world?
It’s important to have a balance of everyone and from a variety of diversities in leadership positions. It’s important to have men, it’s important to have women, it’s important to have young people, it’s important to have old people – it’s important to have so many individuals from so many walks of life to make the world work. Without this, our perspective is narrowed and we’re unable to evaluate situations in the best, most open-minded way possible.
5. Who is an inspirational woman you look up to and why?
Oh my goodness. I’m not sure if there is one in particular – there are so many! My two daughters, the women that I work with, the people that I’m surrounded by everyday and my Sheroes; they are all just incredibly inspirational. I love gaining inspiration from all different walks of life, because that is how you gain such a rich level of perspective.
6. What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
That’s such a great question. I have felt for a long time that International Women’s Day has always been a celebration on how far women have come - and no denying at all, we have come an incredibly long way! But I really believe that this International Women’s Day and as we move forward, we as women should have focus. We should be making a real change, and dropping the ladder down to other women and young girls through mentoring. This year at Share the Dignity, our core message was that every girl deserves an education – there are 27% of Australian girls who don’t go to school because they don’t have access to sanitary items. I don’t think there’s a woman in Australia who wouldn’t be empathetic to that.
Women should be mentoring other women more – no matter what the age. So let’s drop the ladder down to mentor, and ultimately make a difference to young girls. We are here to raise our future leaders of Australia – that’s what we need to do.