Rochelle Courtenay, founder of charity Share the Dignity and nicknamed Australia’s ‘Pad Lady’, is a big believer in using the power of storytelling to inspire men and women to make a difference to the lives of women often fleeing from domestic violence or homelessness. She talks to Leaders in Heels about how she started Share the Dignity and what keeps her working tirelessly for women who don’t have a voice.
How did you inspire others to join you even though you didn’t have any prior experience?
Never having done anything like this before, I made things up as I went along. When I first collected sanitary items with other women in my local community, I didn’t even know I had to be a registered charity, have a board of directors, or even pay for permits in every state!
I used to ask myself (and still do!) ‘What’s the worst thing that could happen?’ All I wanted to do was make a difference. I started surrounding myself with people who had the right knowledge and strengths in furthering the cause.
In the beginning, how did you get the word out about the work you were doing?
I started telling people true stories about women using socks and newspapers during their periods. I couldn’t imagine another woman not being empathetic when she heard this. As soon as someone heard about it, they would ask how they could help.
I would never have managed to reach as many people as I did if social media hadn’t existed. I shared raw, uncut and powerful stories that got shared and talked about. One of the most powerful stories I shared was of a woman who worked as a petrol station assistant in the Northern Territory. She recalled a woman walking in at 10.30pm one night, who looked like she couldn’t even afford basic necessities let alone pads. This woman bled all over the floor, took some pads off the counter, went to the bathroom, cleaned herself up, then came back to return the rest of the pads.
I remember the woman telling me that she had no idea what to do or how to react. That story touched something deep inside me and I shared it on social media. People needed to know what was happening and sharing the power of storytelling was the best way to connect with them, so they would care too.
What inspires you and what’s the best part of your job?
I get so much strength from our volunteers, who are all so incredibly busy, but still give their time selflessly and generously to Share the Dignity. I think we have such committed volunteers because they can see directly the results of the work they are doing. We’ve made it simple for people to volunteer with us, including setting expectations and outcomes. People love it when they can see they have made a difference.
The best part of my job is dropping the donations off to a charity, meeting the women and seeing the smiles on their faces, especially during our Christmas appeal called It’s in the bag.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
I’m always worried that the donations won’t meet the need. In a post Covid world, the need to help women is so much greater than it was before and that’s where we come in. The impact of Covid and the lockdowns on the work we do has given me many stressful and sleepless nights.
What’s your advice to other women wanting to make a difference?
Surround yourself with amazing and incredible people because it’s when we are together that we can make a real difference. I never thought for a second I could ever do so much on my own. Also learn to delegate, delegate, and delegate!
About Rochelle Courtenay
Rochelle Courtenay uses her power of storytelling as the Founder and Managing Director of Share the Dignity, which works to make a real, on the ground difference in the lives of those experiencing homelessness, fleeing domestic violence, or doing it tough. We distribute period products to those in need and work to end period poverty here in Australia. We assist those in need through collecting thousands of period products each year through our collection drives and campaigns and distribute them directly to charities across Australia.
About the author
Rashida Tayabali is a copywriter specialising in writing clear, conversational copy for women in business to help them attract their dream clients. She’s also a features writer with articles published in leading Australian publications. She also volunteers with Share the Dignity as a copywriter.