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How Share the Dignity makes sure every woman in Australia has pads and tampons

Share the Dignity founder Rochelle Courtenay with the pink box installed at Kurri Kurri High School.
Rochelle Courtenay is a Queensland finalist for Australian of the Year.

ABC News: Col Kerr

One Queenslander's passion and determination to ensure that every woman, no matter their circumstances, has access to sanitary items has been recognised nationally.

Rochelle Courtenay, founder of Share the Dignity, was announced as one of the Queensland nominees for Australian of the Year this week.

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Her charity helps to provide sanitary items for underprivileged women and girls across Australia.

"We do this because we have to … there's so many homeless women in Australia and so many that go without the basics and necessities that we had to do it," Ms Courtenay said.

An idea goes viral

Two and half years ago Ms Courtenay read an article that talked about the number of homeless people in Australia.

"When I read that they had no access to sanitary items when they got their period, it floored me," she told ABC Radio Brisbane.

"I couldn't believe that this was happening in Australia.

"I set out to collect sanitary items from our local community and then it went viral."

Since then, Ms Courtenay has collected more than 1 million packs of pads and tampons.

"At first it was for homeless women and women who had fled domestic violence, but we now help drought-stricken farming communities, Aboriginal and remote Indigenous communities that don't have access to them," she said.

"I just thought we could fix it in our local area — which we did … tick — and then we did it somewhere else … tick."

Ms Courtenay credited the more than 2,000 women she calls "sheros" with helping to make her idea a reality.

Kelly Sutton
Kelly Sutton, a community worker in Mackay, collects pads and tampons for the charity.

ABC News: Sophie Kesteven

"We're an Australia-wide charity and it doesn't happen in Mildura or Bendigo if there's no shero there making it happen," she said.

Vending machines for free pads and tampons

Ms Courtenay has also designed Share the Dignity vending machines that dispense period packs made up of two pads and six tampons free of charge.

A Share the Dignity pink box has been installed at Kurri Kurri High School.
Each vending machine gives tampons and pads in a pack for free.

ABC News: Kerrin Thomas

"The machines have been installed in poverty-stricken schools, homeless shelters and domestic violence refuges," she said.

"Every child deserves an education and especially when you're a female, you should be able to go to school."

Other Queensland finalists in the Australian of the Year awards include rugby league player Jonathan Thurston, maternal foetal surgeon Dr Glenn Gardner, and sports administrator Paul White, with the winner set to be announced next week in Brisbane.