Background, Aims and Objectives
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It is an organisation made up of women with disabilities and associated organisations. The national secretariat is located in Tasmania, the island State of Australia. WWDA is run by women with disabilities, for women with disabilities. It is the only organisation of its kind in Australia and one of only a very small number internationally. WWDA is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability.
Background and History
In 1981, the International Year of the Disabled Person, Disabled People’s International (DPI) held its first World Assembly in Singapore. Thirteen Australians participated and returned to Australia to set up an Australian branch of DPI. Two years later, DPI Australia (DPIA) was established, and from the outset, was dominated by disabled men. Only 3 of the 11 members of its governance structure were women, and there was no mention of women or gender in DPIA goals and objectives. Key women members of DPIA were frustrated and disappointed at their unequal participation within DPIA. So in 1985 they decided to establish their own women’s network within DPIA, known as the National Women’s Network (DPIA). In the same year, DPI held its second World Assembly in the Bahamas. Australian women with disabilities representing DPIA were required to pay their own way to the Assembly, whilst male representatives of DPIA were funded to attend the Assembly. The Australian women joined forces with their international colleagues and demanded that women be given the right to participate equally in all national organisations of people with disabilities. They threatened to withdraw from the national delegations. The DPI World Council was forced to hold an emergency meeting at which they agreed to establish a Standing Committee on the Affairs of Women with Disabilities.
Returning to Australia, the members of the National Women’s Network (DPIA) developed an Affirmative Action Plan which was ratified by DPIA and formally published in DPIA Policy Statements. However, DPIA, still dominated by men, did not implement the Action Plan, discouraged leadership by women with disabilities, and refused to provide any funding or resourcing to the National Women’s Network (DPIA). DPIA, the broader disability sector, and the women’s sector would not recognise, acknowledge nor address the needs and concerns of women with disabilities such as sexuality, reproductive rights, violence and abuse, parenting, education and employment.
In seeking a vehicle to effectively advocate on their own behalf, the Network passed a motion in 1991 resolving to develop their own organisation along feminist principles, get independent funding, and leave DPIA. It took a further three years to secure a small seeding grant from the Australian Government but in 1994 the Network changed its name to Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) and established an interim governance structure. On March 3rd, 1995 WWDA was incorporated as an independent organisation run by women with disabilities for women with disabilities.
In its embryonic state, WWDA was considered by its founders as “an opportunity to work together as women with disabilities to build confidence, self esteem and positive expectations about life’s goals.” Within a year of incorporating, WWDA had a membership of over 600 individuals and organisations. For the first few years, WWDA was required by Government to re-apply for its funding every 6 months. This uncertainty of its future was a major challenge for WWDA, however the organisation refused to become insular and reactive, and instead forged ahead with it’s strategies to improve the status of disabled women in Australia. In 1998 after much negotiation, the Australian Government agreed to provide WWDA’s operational funding on an annual basis. For almost the next decade, WWDA’s funding remained at the same amount, with no guarantee of ongoing funding from one year to the next.
The organisation was initially governed by a Management Committee of 12 women with disabilities, representing the 6 Australian States and 2 Territories. The original WWDA Constitution required that each State and Territory be represented on the Committee and that the women representing these geographic locations be drawn from existing ‘groups or networks’ of women with disabilities. In practice, this model did not work well, because where they existed, the ‘groups’ were unfunded, operated on a voluntary basis, and relied on the goodwill of individual women with disabilities to drive them. Consequently, many of the women involved became burnt out and with no support, several of the groups floundered.
In 2000, WWDA undertook a major review of its governance structure and re-wrote its Constitution to better reflect the role and function of a national peak NGO for women with disabilities. This was a difficult task for WWDA because it meant conceding that, with only one paid staff member, the organisation could no longer take responsibility for trying to establish and support State and Territory groups of women with disabilities. The re-written Constitution saw the removal of the clause requiring State and Territory representation on the WWDA Management Committee. Instead, the Committee was to be made up of women with disabilities who were full members of the organisation, regardless of their geographic location. It was considered more important that potential Committee members possessed the knowledge and skills required to manage a community based NGO. The revamped Constitution also enabled WWDA to co-opt additional members onto the Management Committee if required. This model has worked well in practice and has given WWDA much more flexibility in being able to draw on the expertise of individual women to help the organisation meet its objectives.
WWDA’ s work seeks to promote the advancement of education of society to the status and needs of women with disabilities in order to promote gender equality, promote equity, reduce suffering, poverty, discrimination and exploitation, violence and abuse of women with disabilities. WWDA is unique, in that it operates as a national disability organisation; a national women’s organisation; and a national human rights organisation.
WWDA addresses disability within a human rights model, which identifies the barriers and restrictions facing women with disabilities as the focus for reform, and demands that women with disabilities can realise their rights and freedoms.
WWDA’s systemic advocacy seeks to ensure opportunities in all walks of life for all women with disabilities. In this context, WWDA works to increase awareness of, and address issues faced by, women and girls with disabilities in the community.
WWDA has a simple Membership structure. Membership of the organisation is open to individual women with disabilities (Full Membership) and individuals and organisations who are supportive of the aim and objectives of WWDA (Associate membership). Only full members have voting rights. Membership of WWDA is free so that women with disabilities are not excluded from membership on the grounds of affordability. WWDA has clear aims and objectives and every 5 years produces a detailed Strategic Plan which sets out its vision, goals, policy priorities, and objectives and strategies to achieve its goals. The Strategic Plan is developed in consultation with WWDA members and reflects key issues of concern to women with disabilities in Australia.
WWDA’s innovative programs have been critically acclaimed at national and international levels. WWDA’s policy and program areas have included: Preventing Violence Against Women With Disabilities; Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities; Leadership and Mentoring; Information and Communications Technology; Housing; Health and Well-Being; Ageing; Education, Employment and Income Support; and Human Rights.
WWDA has, in its short life, developed a critical mass of expertise on the needs of women with disabilities. It has concentrated and utilised the energies of women with disabilities as activists, researchers and service providers and engaged other organisations and individuals keen to advance the needs of women with disabilities. The organisation has grown and matured considerably in the past decade. It has moved from being a small group of women with disabilities concerned primarily with building individual confidence and self-esteem, to an international human rights organisation enabling and representing the collective interests of women with disabilities and committed to promoting and advancing their human rights. WWDA now has a strong and growing international presence and is seen as a leading voice in international disability, women’s and human rights debates. WWDA’s innovative programs have been critically acclaimed at national and international levels, and the organisation has been rewarded with a number of prestigious awards, including national and state violence prevention and human rights awards.
In late 2003, WWDA was formally invited by the French Government to apply for the French Republic’s Human Rights Prize for 2003. WWDA was one of only two Australian entries invited to apply for the Prize. Although WWDA did not win the Prize, the judges said:
“We found your action aiming at improving the condition of women with disabilities a very deserving one indeed……we congratulate your organisation for devoting so much efforts to such a worthy cause and wish you every success in your endeavours.”
In December 2001, WWDA was named the National Winner of the Australian Human Rights Award. The judges were impressed by the broad base of WWDA’s work and influence and the range of methods used to advocate for women living with disabilities, from lobbying to education. They said WWDA deserved ongoing recognition and was a valuable and visible organisation. They further stated:
“……WWDA has achieved an enormous amount in a short period of time, working tirelessly on behalf of one of the most marginalised and disadvantaged groups in Australia. Areas in which it has worked assiduously include unlawful sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities, reproductive health, violence against women with disabilities, and leadership and mentoring. Although it has a domestic focus, WWDA has provided inspiration for women with disabilities all over the world, receiving letters of thanks from as far away as the Ukraine and the USA.”
WWDA’s groundbreaking work in the area of preventing violence against women with disabilities has seen the organisation awarded the Australian Heads of Government National Violence Prevention Award (1999), as well as a nomination for the United Nations Millennium Peace Prize for Women Award (2000). WWDA has also won the Australian Crime & Violence Prevention Award (2008) and the Tasmanian Women’s Safety Award (2008).
WWDA is currently funded by the Australian Department of Social Services (DSS) on a three year funding cycle. WWDA’s operational funding from DSS, which represents WWDA’s total income, is currently $165,000 per annum. At times, WWDA receives one off grants to implement specific projects and also receives small amounts from time to time from donations.
Aim and Objectives
The aim of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is to be a national voice for the needs and rights of women with disabilities and a national force to improve the lives and life chances of women with disabilities.
The objectives of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) are:
(a) to actively promote the participation of women with disabilities in all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural life;
(b) to advocate on issues of concern to women with disabilities in Australia; and
(c) to seek to be the national representative organisation for women with disabilities in Australia by:
- (i) undertaking systemic advocacy;
- (ii) providing policy advice;
- (iii) undertaking research; and
- (iv) providing information and education.
Major Functions of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is at the forefront of support and advocacy, with, and on behalf of, women with disabilities in Australia, both individually and collectively. WWDA’s major roles, functions, and activities include (but are not restricted to):
Provision of systemic advocacy for women with disabilities
This can include: community education; awareness raising; consultation; representation on advisory bodies, Committees, Working Parties, Steering Groups; submission writing; lobbying; ministerial delegations; appearances at parliamentary or other types of inquiries; development of public campaigns; use of the media; training and education of service providers; development of models of best practice in accessible website design and content; production of accessible journals and Newsletters; conducting of national, State/Territory, regional and local Conferences, seminars and forums; and so on.
Research and policy development
This can include qualitative and quantitative research methodologies; provision of the structures, mechanisms and expertise for research into issues of concern to women with disabilities such as: violence; the interaction between gender and disability; sexuality and reproductive health; telecommunications; ageing; health; employment; stereotyping in the media; citizenship; leadership and mentoring; unlawful sterilisation; disability service provision; and much more; development and publishing of Resource Kits, Training Manuals, research reports, Conference papers; journal articles; etc.
Project development and implementation
This can include needs based planning; issue based project development and implementation at national, State/territory, regional, and local levels; development of models of best practice in project development for people with disabilities (including models of inclusive training and education packages etc); publishing of Project Reports; advocacy stemming from Project recommendations and outcomes; production of Disability Project Management Guidelines; etc.
Addressing the issue of empowerment and women with disabilities, both individually and collectively
This can include provision of opportunities for women with disabilities to come together in groups; share experiences; share information; develop relationships; organise around issues or problems that are unique to them; provide support to one another; and develop social networks and alliances (such processes assist women with disabilities to improve their self-esteem, increase self confidence, and develop new knowledge and skills); creating opportunities for, and supporting women with disabilities in leadership and mentoring roles; creating and facilitating opportunities for women with disabilities to develop the confidence and skills to take up representation activities and positions within their local communities and at state, national and international levels; provision of information, knowledge, resources and analytical skills on how bureaucratic and political structures function, as well as provide an entry point into the political decision-making processes.
This includes self-assessment of performance utilising the Community Health and Primary Health Care Accreditation Standards Program (as there are no specific Practice Standards in Australia for national charitable organisations; national advocacy organisations; national disability organisations; or national women’s organisations). Other quality improvement processes include: strategic planning; program and project evaluation; development of, and reporting against performance measurers and indicators; random surveys of member satisfaction; development and implementation of mechanisms to enable feedback from members and other stakeholders, such as electronic based discussion group; website feedback form; Newsletter Evaluation form; and so on.
Ways That You Can Support WWDA
The success of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) relies heavily on the goodwill and volunteerism of its members. To ensure the continued success of our organisation, we need help from our members. We are always seeking women with disabilities who would like to represent WWDA at government consultations, workshops, forums and committees, as well as helping us in other ways such as commenting on WWDA documents and reports; presenting papers at Conferences; writing articles for WWDANews and so on.
Financial donations, no matter how small, are always much appreciated.
WWDA is a Public Benevolent Institution, which means that donations over $2 are tax deductible.
Here are just some suggestions for how YOU can help Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA).
You can help Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) by:
- becoming a member;
- giving a donation (donations over $2 are tax deductible);
- representing WWDA on Committees, Advisory Boards and so on;
- participating in consultations and government reviews;
- writing articles for journals etc;
- sending us copies of relevant resources for our library;
- letting us know about any relevant upcoming activities and/or events;
- letting us know about any new books, videos, etc;
- putting us on your newsletter mailing list;
- contributing your ideas or stories to our website and update bulletins;
- using us as a hub for information;
- using our website;
- giving us feedback about our work;
- donating equipment;
- raising funds for us.