To mark International Women’s Day we chatted to Keran Howe, Executive Director of Women with Disabilities Victoria about their work empowering, enabling and championing the rights of the women they support.
Tell us about Women with Disabilities Victoria and what you do?
Women with Disabilities Victoria is an organisation run by women with disabilities for women with disabilities. Our members, board and staff live across the state and have a range of disabilities, lifestyles and ages. We are united in working towards our vision of ‘a world where all women are respected and can fully experience life’.
Our gender perspective allows us to focus on areas of particular inequity to women with disabilities this includes: access to women’s health services, ensuring the National Insurance Disability Scheme (NDIS) services are gender sensitive, as well as safety from violence. We also undertake research and consultation, provide workforce development, professional education, representation and advocacy to government, in addition to information and leadership programs for women with disabilities.
"We are united in working towards our vision of 'a world where all women are respected and can fully experience life'."
How does Women with Disabilities Victoria champion the rights of women?
Our mission is to advance real social and economic inclusion for women with a disability in Victoria. We are a voice for women with disabilities, we create opportunities for women with disabilities to be visible and to be heard in their communities, and we engage the community to challenge attitudes and myths about women with disabilities.
We respond to the social determinants of health for women with disabilities promoting access to health services, housing and employment for women with disabilities through our representation and policy work - in particular preventing and responding to violence against women with disabilities.
Our commitment to create opportunities for women with disabilities to realise their leadership and advocacy potential is evident in our Enabling Women program.
Enabling Women is our community leadership program that empowers women with disabilities to have a voice about issues that relate to them and other women with disabilities. More than 175 women have participated since the program began. And last year we ran two specialist Enabling Women programs, one for young women (aged 15 – 25) and one for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) women.
What impact does your work have on the lives of women with disabilities?
Our work advising government legislation and policy development has resulted in violence against women with a disability being considered in policy and family violence service design. And our workforce development has led to greater awareness of women’s rights and particular needs amongst disability service providers and community organisations.
Through our submissions to government and to the National Disability Insurance Agency we have influenced the creation of quality and safeguard guidelines to be more relevant and responsive to women with disabilities.
Why is it so important for organisations like yours to advocate for and champion the rights of women with disabilities?
Our work is so important because we encounter discrimination on many levels, each of which restricts our opportunities for equal participation in economic, social, educational and political life. Some women with disabilities experience multiple layers of discrimination based on their race, age, gender and sexual orientation, as well as their disability.
And we are often ignored in government legislation, policies and programs. Often our needs are not adequately recognised within community organisations and services.
What will you be doing to mark International Women’s Day 2018?
On International Women’s day I will be speaking on two panels. The first is Press for Progress and Leave No Women Behind a collaboration between Women’s Health East and the Yarra Ranges Council with a keynote address by Christine Nixon. The second panel discussion is at WIRE – Women’s Information Resource and Exchange – to discuss Intersectional feminism. This is about the many identities that all women have based on belonging to different population groups - for example, race, ethnicity, place of residence, age and/or disability.