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EXCLUSIVE: Meet one of the leading women behind the Tampon Tax

Rochelle Courtenay's initiative Share The Dignity has helped disadvantaged women across Australia and she's one of the leading faces behind banning the Tampon Tax.

By Alex Lilly

It's safe to say few women enjoy getting their period, but unfortunately, it's one of those things we just have to deal with.

But every time we reach for a packet of sanitary pads, tampons or a menstrual cup, some women don't have access to something that many of us simply take for granted.

It was this thought that kicked off Rochelle Courtenay's idea to start Share The Dignity, a charity established to help women in need by distributing sanitary items.

Now to Love sat down for an exclusive chat with Rochelle about how her idea formed and she lead the fight against this year's Tampon Tax.

Rochelle and her daughters. *(Image: Instagram @sharethedignityaustralia)*
Rochelle and her daughters. (Image: Instagram @sharethedignityaustralia)

How it all began

Share The Dignity kicked off in February 2015 after Rochelle read an article online that said there were 44,000 homeless women living in Australia.

"That's the figure I remember and how they didn't have somewhere safe to call home but they also didn't have sanitary products and that they were using wadded up toilet paper and newspaper and socks to deal with their period and I couldn't imagine what that would be like," she says.

"I thought no one must know about this because if they did there wouldn't be a problem."

Rochelle, a former personal trainer, started collecting sanitary items and even asked her clients to donate a packet of pads or tampons for every wine they had!

"They were the last things ever to be donated yet they were always the first things to go in domestic violence refuges and homeless shelters, so that's how that started," Rochelle says.

After the success of the first donation, where she collected 450 packs, Rochelle's friend from a domestic violence shelter asked if she'd do another collection of sanitary items. Rochelle was happy to help and set up a Facebook page to spread the word, and from there, things went viral.

"Now we've collected 1.5 million packets of pads and tampons and distributed them through three and a half thousand charities that we work with," says Rochelle.

Tampons and pads were the last things ever to be donated yet they were always the first things to go in domestic violence refuges and homeless shelters.*(Image: Getty Images)*
Tampons and pads were the last things ever to be donated yet they were always the first things to go in domestic violence refuges and homeless shelters.(Image: Getty Images)

Wendy's story

It was when she met Wendy that Rochelle realised how much of an impact donating sanitary items has.

At a homeless connect event on the Gold Coast, a 45 year-old woman approached Rochelle with her pink boxes of pads and tampons and asked for a packet.

"Then she told me the story of how she'd found a tampon in a surf club on the floor and she'd been using that for the last two days and that she was living in her car with her two kids on the beachfront because she fled her husband who had beat her black and blue for about eight years," Rochelle recounts.

"Wendy's kids were at school that day and said that five dollars that you or I would spend on tampons could buy a loaf of bread (at the end of the day because they're cheaper) and sausages and she could feed her kids dinner and for the next day."

As she handed Wendy the packet of tampons, Rochelle asked why she'd never called 1800 RESPECT, the hotline for people fleeing domestic violence and sexual assault, and Wendy admitted that she had no idea that it existed.

"So I was handing her that box of tampons and thought 'How cool would it be if we put that number in all of the tampon packets so that women knew and could get more help?' and we did."

One woman Rochelle met had been using a tampon she found on the surf club floor for the last two days. *(Image: Getty Images)*
One woman Rochelle met had been using a tampon she found on the surf club floor for the last two days. (Image: Getty Images)

Now with Christmas approaching, Rochelle and the Share The Dignity team are focused on their "It's In The Bag" initiative.

Like many of us, Rochelle had an abundance of toiletries ranging from powders and soaps to bath bombs and perfumes that she just never used and thought that the women at the shelters would appreciate these at Christmas.

"Kids get Christmas presents, but mums and parents don't so much."

"We've now collected 250,000 of those since we started and given them out to women spending Christmas in domestic violence shelters and homeless shelters."

"Women are extraordinary when they put their mind to things, women can do anything," she adds. "I don't think that there's a woman in Australia who wouldn't be empathetic to people being without the basic essentials.

"It's In The Bag is really easy to do because everyone has an abundance of too much stuff. To somebody else, you have no idea what the smell of shampoo means to them or to brush their teeth when they haven't brushed them in weeks."

How Rochelle helped to defeat the Tampon Tax

Earlier this year, you couldn't scroll through social media or turn on the TV without hearing about the government's Tampon Tax.

When Rochelle was designing a vending machine that dispenses a free period pack with pads and tampons inside, she realised that as sanitary items fall under the Therapeutic Goods Association Act so they're deemed medical, however, they were still being taxed as a luxury at the same time.

"I had some students in their last year of school do me a paper, it was about 75 pages long, it had all of the legalities around GST and the removal of it, how it could happen and how it's happened in other countries," she says.

READ MORE: This woman says she was FIRED from her job because of her "heavy period."

Rochelle was one of the key figures in the fight against the tampon tax. *(Image: Instagram @sharethedignityaustralia)*
Rochelle was one of the key figures in the fight against the tampon tax. (Image: Instagram @sharethedignityaustralia)

When former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was at her local Politics In The Pub event, she even had a word with him about the issue.

"I introduced myself and asked him if he thought that it was fair that our tampons were taxed and he could not have got me away quick enough! He said there's been no noise or enthusiasm from anyone around this."

This only fuelled the fire in Rochelle's belly. Not only did she write letters to as many politicians as possible including the Prime Minister and the treasurer, but she also had to launch a federal petition and secure 100,000 signatures in 30 days. She even had a chat with opposition leader Bill Shorten who remarked how his wife and daughters had been complaining that weekend how expensive sanitary products were.

WATCH: Rochelle Courtenay appears on Today to discuss the Tampon Tax. Post continues...

That petition is currently the most signed online petition Australia's ever seen and in October 2018, it was announced that women would not have to pay GST on sanitary items from January 1. And when Rochelle heard the news from the health minister's office, she cried with joy.

"I thought, 'You know what? It's really exciting that it's happened but it's such bulls--- that we had to be fighting it in 2018,'" Rochelle admits.

"For every minute that I was doing that and every other woman was doing that, they weren't doing what we do best which is caring for other people. When we start to see some gender equality in politics as well, that decision is different."

READ MORE: Menstrual cycle messing with your life? Here's what you can do.

Rochelle met with Bill Shorten to discuss the outrageous prices of sanitary items. *(Image: Instagram @sharethedignityaustralia)*
Rochelle met with Bill Shorten to discuss the outrageous prices of sanitary items. (Image: Instagram @sharethedignityaustralia)

What can I do to help?

The fight against the Tampon Tax may be over, but women around the country are still in need of sanitary items. So if you want to help out, take part in Share The Dignity's "It's In The Bag" campaign by donating a handbag that's in good condition you no longer use, fill it with pads, tampons or any other personal hygiene items you may have and drop it off at your local Bunnings before December 2.

"We always need more volunteers, the most powerful thing anyone can do for us is use their voice because the more people who know about it, the more people will donate," Rochelle says.

For more information, visit the Share The Dignity website.

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