Women supporting women is the changemaker in the fight for equality for disabled women and girls.

Posted 1 year ago by Emma Clark

A powerful speech about inclusion and advocacy for women with disabilities rallied enthusiastic support at the Future Women Leadership Summit this International Women’s Day.

Elly Desmarchelier, a speaker, writer and disability advocate spoke candidly about her experience as a woman with a disability, and called on all in the room to be agents of chance to positively influence the treatment of disabled women.

“I’m asking you to find a part of your life where you are going to intentionally open up and invite a disabled person in” she invited the assembled crowd. It is a sentiment reiterated in Demarchelier’s most recent column for The Guardian, where she laments the level of effort displayed by her friends to connect when she is experiencing the health impacts of her disability. It takes effort to reach out and lift someone else up, and we need to be conscious of how our actions (or lack thereof) impact others. 

“I’m simply asking you to break down the barriers in your life. Because if we can break down the barriers in your life we can break down the barriers in one street. And if we can break down the barriers in one street, we can change one city. And if we can change one city there is absolutely nothing stopping us from changing a state. And if we can change a state, we are going to change this country for people with a disability once and for all.” Desmarchelier implores the attendees. 

See an excerpt from Elly Demarchelier’s speech at the Future Women Leadership Summit as posted on Instagram by Future Women.

Advocating for changing attitudes, values and beliefs about people with disabilities is at the core of her message. It is only this that will deliver marked change and impact the disadvantages faced by disabled women. In Australia, 40% of women with a disability have experienced physical violence after the age of 15. And a shocking 90% of women with an intellectual disability have experienced sexual abuse.

As national spokesperson for the Defend our NDIS campaign Desmarchelier has a wealth of experience promoting and advocating for the rights of people with a disability. In her 2022 speech at the Jobs & Skills Summit she identifies a barrier preventing businesses from hiring more people with disabilities; “I’ve heard people say today that we need courageous leadership to get more disabled people into work. There’s nothing courageous about it. We have so much to offer your businesses, organisations and governments – but the only thing standing in our way is a lack of leadership”. 

Quoting one of her heroes, Barack Obama, Desmarchelier implores all women to think critically about what is holding them back from being a true ally and advocate for the disabled. “Are you fired up to create some change? Are you ready to go? Because it’s you that can create the change that people with a disability need and this time we’re counting on you.”

On this International Women’s Day all women are tasked with challenging their beliefs and biases about people with a disability, and taking a step forward to clear the path for the deserving women and girls that follow.