People with disability call for changes to traditional leadership on International Women’s Day

Posted 2 years ago by Anna Christian
For International Women’s Day, Women With Disabilities Australia has released a Leadership Statement to break down barriers face by women with disability in becoming leaders. [Source: Shutterstock]
For International Women’s Day, Women With Disabilities Australia has released a Leadership Statement to break down barriers face by women with disability in becoming leaders. [Source: Shutterstock]

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is calling on all Australians to change the way they think about leadership this International Women’s Day.

The peak organisation for women, girls, feminine identifying and non-binary people with disability has released a Leadership Statement today, 8 March, which aims to build the leadership capacity of people it represents by breaking down societal barriers.

WWDA says over the last few decades it has received thousands of reports from women and girls with disabilities, their supporters, and related organisations about a lack of representation and inclusion of women with disabilities in leadership roles across Australia.

Even the United Nations is concerned about the issue and has asked the Australian Government to improve leadership and decision-making opportunities for women with disabilities, according to WWDA.

“Despite some improvements over time, women and girls with disabilities are still being told that they cannot ‘lead’ and are rarely given opportunities to participate meaningfully in leadership programs, opportunities, or training,” WWDA says.

To promote the leadership of women with disability, WWDA believes society’s understanding, definitions, and presentations of what leadership means need to change.

The Leadership Statement shows how changing attitudes in the community will support women with disability to be included in leadership opportunities in the same way that other Australians are.

It was co-designed and co-written by women with disabilities for women with disabilities.

“For too long we have been actively excluded from participation and decision-making processes,” WWDA Project Manager Saphia Grant explains.

“Through this Statement, we want to challenge our culture, politicians and ‘leaders’ in our communities to both see and value the leadership of women and non-binary people with disabilities.

“We are calling for exclusionary and discriminatory attitudes and practices to be replaced with open-mindedness and inclusion that values the leadership of women with disabilities in all our diversity.”

The Leadership Statement has five principles:

  • Lead by lifting others up – Leadership that creates space for others to join, feel and be heard too
  • Value diversity and lived experience – Promoting the status of women and girls with disabilities in all their diversity
  • Challenging and transforming traditional views of leadership – Women with disabilities are not problems to be ‘fixed’, they are problem solvers
  • Care for self to care for community – The relationships women with disabilities have with themselves and others are the most important resources that they have
  • Nothing about us without us – Inclusion not segregation

The Statement is part of WWDA’s LEAD project, which began in 2019, and Minister for Women Marise Payne officially launched the Statement during an online event tying it to the underlying reasons of why International Women’s Day is so important.

The theme of International Women’s Day this year is ‘#BreakTheBias’, encouraging individuals to call out stereotypes, discrimination and bias against women – including when it comes to leadership roles.

In a special edition of the Connect newsletter for International Women’s Day, Commissioner Dr Rhonda Galbally AC of the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of People with Disability says she has heard submissions about women’s leadership being “on the back foot”.

“Women with disability have told me they face the double whammy of discrimination for all positions – not only leadership positions – on the grounds of both gender and disability. When you put those two things together, women with disability haven’t really got a hope,” Commissioner Galbally says.

“That’s very serious. We need women with disabilities in leadership positions because that’s a way to get things changed.”

The Commissioner acknowledges the work of activists and advocates such as Grace Tame, Jax Jacki Brown, Sam Connor, Caroline Frohmader, Christina Ryan and Nicole Lee to affect the changes that are needed, as well as the work of WWDA.

“WWDA have fought long and hard and are extremely clear about the issues facing women with disability. They have been tireless in preparing detailed analysis and advocating for women with disability to be at all of the policy tables,” she says.

Her message to women with disability today is to never give up, to get active, “mobilise” and join an organisation like WWDA.

“Being connected to organisations like these can help you join the fight for our rights – that’s really important,” Commissioner Galbally explains.

The full WWDA Leadership Statement is available here.