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Share the Dignity: Providing the Essentials

Beatrice Smith and Molly McLaughlin

Having a period is expensive.

For women with a steady income it is a monthly irritation and inconvenience, but for homeless women it can be practically impossible to manage. Share The Dignity is a charity that collects and distributes sanitary products to those in need. It started in Brisbane in 2015 and blossomed rapidly outwards and they now collect donations in all Australian states and territories.

“Oh my god, does this really happen?” This is how Rochelle Courtenay, co-founder of Share the Dignity, describes her reaction when she learned that homeless women had to often choose between their next meal and sanitary items.

Sanitary items have received an unusually large amount of media coverage in recent times due to the backlash over the ‘period tax’, a movement that highlighted that while some ‘essential items’ such as incontinence pads, condoms and sunscreen are excluded from the GST, sanitary products are not.

The average price of a pack of ten sanitary pads or tampons is around $5 from a supermarket. If a homeless woman needs sanitary products for all seven days of her period – changing her sanitary products at least four times every day, every four hours – then $15 per month is what it will cost her to purchase the 28 sanitary items she will need to remain hygienic over this week. This is aside from the absence of the comforts many of us enjoy around that time of the month such as hot water bottles, painkillers or a warm, comfortable bed.

Napkins, tissues or toilet paper replace sanitised products, public bathrooms become showers and dark clothes become necessary if and when these measures fail.

Shelters and charity organisations have supplies of sanitary items but as Rochelle says “they’re always the last things to be donated and always the first things to go.” Theft of sanitary items sometimes becomes the only options for women desperate not to ruin their clothes or be publicly mocked.

“You couldn’t do anything about it, because really, what are you going to do?” says Rochelle, explaining the plight of security guards who see homeless women stealing sanitary items. “They’re having to steal to have their own dignity.”

After Rochelle learned of this hidden problem she decided action had to be taken. “At that time I had a business so [co-founder of Share The Dignity Heather and I] decided we could spread the word within the community and start to collect sanitary items”. Rochelle and Heather didn’t just raise awareness; their call to action was met with over 500 donations of sanitary products. Rochelle organised a Facebook page so people could keep track of where their donations were going and Share the Dignity’s online presence grew from there.

Share the Dignity distributed the donations throughout Brisbane to various charities and then sent the remaining donations to Vanuatu with Aid organisations, however, when Share the Dignity began receiving calls in the weeks after the donation deadline asking if they had more supplies “it was time to put the word out and do another collection,” says Rochelle.

According to the 2011 census of population and housing, Canberra has the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia and our population is 51% female, meaning that around half the city’s homeless are women.

Share the Dignity’s volunteers in Canberra are collecting until the end of April and all donations made in the ACT to these volunteers will be kept in the ACT, with the donations being divided between Canberra women’s refuges and shelters. Find out where to donate here. You can also donate directly online, including alternative products like menstrual cups and period proof underwear.

On International Menstrual Hygeine Day (28 May), Share the Dignity will be holding the inaugural DigniTea High Tea Fundraiser at the Hyatt Hotel in Canberra. You can find out about that here.


Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author


Molly McLaughlin

Molly McLaughlin was less than thrilled to move to Canberra a couple of years ago to study Arts and Economics at ANU, but she can confirm the city has grown on her since then. Along with writing for HerCanberra, she spends her time reading, eating noodles and planning her next adventure. More about the Author

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