November – December 2006
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) is the peak organisation for women with all types of disabilities in Australia. It is a not-for-profit organisation constituted and driven by women with disabilities. Please find below a brief Update Report from WWDA for the months of November – December 2006. If you have any questions, or would like more information on anything in this report, please email Carolyn or Angela at:email@example.com
Sterilisation of Children with Intellectual Disabilities – WWDA position statement update
In August 2003, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) agreed that a nationally consistent approach to the authorisation procedures required for the lawful sterilisation of minors is appropriate. A SCAG Working Group was formed after the 2003 meeting. In 2004, targeted stakeholders were asked to comment on an Issues Paper prepared by the Working Group titled Sterilisation of Minors with a Decision-Making Disability.
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) provided a detailed response to the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General Issues Paper (a copy of WWDA’s 2004 submission is available on the WWDA website at: http://www.wwda.org.au/sterilisesub1.htm).
WWDA’s 2004 response clearly articulated the organisation’s position on the issue, that sterilisation is an act of unnecessary and dehumanising violence which denies a woman’s basic human right to bodily integrity and to bear children and which results in adverse life-long physical and mental health effects. WWDA stressed that sterilisation can be justified only in circumstances where it is necessary to save life or preserve the health of the individual.
Since 2001, WWDA has called on the Australian Government to develop nationally uniform legislation which prohibits sterilisation of children (regardless of disability) except in those circumstances which pose a serious threat to health or life.
It is with extreme regret that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) has not taken any account of WWDA’s pleas to respect the fundamental human rights of women and girls with disabilities, and has proceeded to draft national, uniform legislation which sets out the procedures that jurisdictions could adopt in authorising the sterilisation of children who have an intellectual disability (Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006).
One of the stated objects of the recently released proposed Act is ‘to protect children with intellectual disabilities from unauthorised sterilisation procedures being carried out on them’ (Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006). WWDA asserts that the correct and proper way of ‘protecting children with intellectual disabilities from unauthorised sterilisation procedures’ is for the Australian Government to act immediately to ban all sterilisations of children under the age of 18 years, unless the sterilisation is being performed as a life saving measure or medical emergency (WWDA 2001, 2004).
The United Nations also recommends this position. In considering the Australian Government’s second and third periodic reports on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made the following recommendation in its Concluding Comments Report:
In the light of the United Nations Standard Rules on the Equalization of Opportunities for People with Disabilities (General Assembly Resolution 48/96) and of the Committee’s recommendations adopted at its day of general discussion on ‘Children with Disabilities’ (see CRC/C/69), the Committee encourages the State Party to: e) prohibit the sterilization of children, with or without disabilities…’ (UN CRC/C/175/Add.268, 20 October 2005).
To date, it appears that the New South Wales (NSW) Government is the only State/Territory Government which supports WWDA’s position on this issue. In 2004, the NSW Government, through Attorney General Bob Debus, formally detailed its position to the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG):
…….The [NSW] Government supports the submission from Women With Disabilities Australia that sterilisation of minors with a decision-making disability should be prohibited except where there is a threat to life or health. Sterilisation is a matter for adulthood and should only be carried out in children for immediately needed therapeutic purposes……..NSW will not adopt any uniform legislation unless the Government is sure that sterilisation is prohibited except where there is a serious and immediate threat to health or life.’ (Hon Bob Debus, NSW Attorney General, 2004).
In recent months, in response to the Draft Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation) Bill 2006, WWDA has actively sought to re-iterate its recommendation to the Australian Government and the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) that:
the Federal Government develop universal legislation which prohibits sterilisation of children except in those circumstances which amount to those that are a serious threat to health or life. In the case of adults, WWDA also strongly recommends that sterilisation be prohibited in the absence of the informed consent of the individual concerned, except in those circumstances where there is a serious threat to health or life.
WWDA has written formally to a wide range of stakeholders, both within and outside Australia; to not only raise awareness of the development of the Draft ‘Children with Intellectual Disabilities (Regulation of Sterilisation)’ Bill 2006, but also to seek endorsement and support of WWDA’s position on the issue.
WWDA has received a large number of responses, and these continue to come in to the WWDA Office. The Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) next meets in April 2007, where the issue will be on the agenda for that meeting. In the coming months, WWDA will collate the responses received to date and these will be made available to WWDA members and forwarded as appropriate, to the SCAG.
WWDA continues to lobby and advocate on this most important issue, and encourages members and other interested parties to support WWDA’s position by writing to the State and Territory Attorney’s General. Contact details, including email addresses for the SCAG members are included in an Appendix 1 of this Bulletin.
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – Update
In 2001, after decades of advocacy from disabled communities around the world, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly agreed to a proposal for an international convention on the rights of people with disability. A committee, called the Ad Hoc Committee was set up to discuss what should be in the convention. The Ad Hoc Committee met a number of times over several years to discuss the draft text of the proposed Convention.
Over the past five years, WWDA has actively participated in the development of the Convention, now known as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
One of the contentious areas of debate in the development of the Convention was the issue of whether or not such a Convention should include a separate (Interpretive) Article on Women With Disabilities. WWDA has consistently argued that any such Convention, must contain a separate Article dealing with women with disabilities. WWDA has maintained its position that such an article would recognise that women and girls with disabilities are subject to multiple discrimination and that focused, gender-specific measures (including protective measures) will be necessary to ensure that women and girls enjoy all human rights and fundamental freedoms on the basis of equality with men and boys.
WWDA’s position on the need for a separate Article dealing with women with disabilities was finally supported by the Australian Government delegation at the Ad Hoc Meeting in January 2006. The Australian Government adopted the proposed article written by WWDA in our various Submissions on the Convention, and put this forward to the UN at the Ad Hoc Committee meeting in New York in January 06. WWDA applauds that initiative taken by the Australian Government, in supporting a stance for a separate (interpretive) article on women with disabilities.
On the 13th of December 2006, the UN General Assembly formally adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – ending decades of struggle for recognition of people with disabilities and their rights as human rights. WWDA is delighted that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities contains a stand alone article on women with disabilities. The Convention also makes specific mention of gender throughout the other relevant articles.
The Convention is expected to be open to all countries for signature from 30 March 2007. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities goes a long way in affirming the rights and dignity of women with disabilities and is potentially a powerful tool in addressing violations of their human rights. However, as with most other Human Rights treaties, the challenge for all member states will be to act to ensure its implementation. WWDA believes that it is important for the Australian Government to show leadership in this area by being one of the first countries to sign and ratify this convention. To this end, WWDA will contact both the Prime Minister and the Federal Attorney-General to confirm with them the need for action early in 2007.
The United Nations Press Release regarding adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is attached in Appendix 2 of this Bulletin, along with the Australian Government’s Press Release.
The adoption of the convention has been celebrated by people with disabilities the world over, with pictures shared over through disability communication channels over the Internet (see photograph below).
Members of Disabled Peoples’ International (Asia Pacific Region) celebrate in Bangkok on the
UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
WWDA Violence Resource Manual – Update
Much of WWDA’s work over the past few months has concentrated on its national project under the Domestic and Family Violence and Sexual Assault funding program (Australian Government, Department of Family, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs [FaCSIA]). WWDA’s project is focusing on the development and production of a Resource Manual on Violence Against Women With Disabilities.
The Manual is made up of four Booklets with all material also being provided on an accompanying CD Rom in audio format. WWDA has completed the four Booklets to final draft stage, and is now awaiting final approval from the Office for Women (OfW) within FaCSIA. WWDA is working with Vision Australia on the production of the CD Roms and is very appreciative of their support of the Project. It is anticipated that the Manual will be ready for distribution by early March 2007. WWDA has already received a large number of pre-orders for the Manual.
NOTE: If you would like to register your interest in receiving an Order Form for the Violence Against Women With Disabilities Resource Manual, please contact Angela at the WWDA Office via phone (03 6244 8288) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Covers of the Violence Manual Booklets
Advancing through Advocacy for Women With Disabilities Project – Update
Work has continued on all aspects of the “Advancing Through Advocacy for Women With Disabilities” project being conducted with funding from the Australian Government through FaCSIA’s OfW Women’s Leadership and Development Program. Contact has now been made with the administrators of the Women’s Registers in each of the states and territories as well as with the Women on Boards directors and the Appoint Women register at the Australian Government level. It should be noted that states which do not operate a dedicated women’s register, nevertheless all have registration forms which carry a ‘gender’ tick box as well as an option to disclose disability.
All states and territories have also been approached to obtain a listing of advisory boards and committees. In the larger states, such as NSW, there are over 1000 of these bodies with a large number of representatives. Where lists of boards are available on a website, such as that available on a department by department basis on the Australian Government Department of Finance website, these lists have been trawled for information about potential places for WWDA representation. The Project Officer has registered with states outside her state of residence, and in so doing receives notification of vacancies from a number of different states. These are passed on to individuals on the WWDA Register as is relevant. In this way, a number of placements have been made. All women on the WWDA Register are encouraged to register at the state/territory level, as well as with Appoint Women.
Work on the WWDA Register itself continues. Whilst expressions of interest have been received from about 100 women, only a small number have completed their official registrations. Despite this there is ongoing work done to encourage more women to register, and to place women with disabilities in representative positions. In this latter activity, the project has had success with a number of placements.
A meeting was held with officers in the Women’s Leadership and Development Program in late December to discuss progress with the Project.
The draft final report for the Project will be circulated to the 6 members of the Project Reference Group in mid-January, with the finished report going to FaCSIA at the end of January.
NOTE: Any woman with disabilities who is interested in representation work with WWDA should contact the Project Officer on 02 6291 6842 or email@example.com.
Communications Representation Project – Update
The Progress Report for the Consumer Representation Grant Project from the Department of Communications, Information Technology & the Arts (DCITA) was submitted to that Department on 1 January. All project activities are proceeding on schedule.
During November-December there have been two meetings of communications disability advisory bodies. Sue Salthouse participated in the meeting of the Communications Alliance Disability Council in November. Under new operational guidelines, the Communications Alliance (CA) now requires its consumer advisory bodies to have both a Chair and Vice Chair. Christopher Newell and Sue Salthouse were elected into these two positions respectively at that meeting. Following the 2006 amalgamation of the Australian Communications Industries Forum with the Service Providers Association, the new body of the CA elected its first Board of Directors on 1 December. Neville Stevens has been elected as the independent non-executive chairman of this Board. Other information about the board can be obtained from the CA website at http://www.acif.org.au/. In another important move, the CA has just released a booklet with information about VoIP telephony, a soft copy of which can also be obtained from the website.
Louise Bannister participated in the December meeting of the Telecommunications Disability Consumer Representatives Project Advisory Body (TEDICORE PAB). It too has just appointed a new chairperson. Maurice Corcoran has replaced Frank Nowlan who stepped down from the position after the auspicing of TEDICORE passed from Blind Citizens Australia to the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations during 2006. Frank will stay on as a member of the PAB. A major project for TEDICORE is to conduct an investigation in 2007 into the current use and barriers to use of mobile phone technologies including 3G for people with disabilities. Louise has already had constructive input into the design of the research, and will continue to support and participate in the project.
NOTE: Of major importance in all WWDA communications work is the registration of an industry code ACIF C625:2005 Information on Accessibility Features for Telephone Equipment. This Code requires customer equipment importers and manufacturers to provide information about accessibility features for all their telephone equipment. This information is to be provided to Carriage Service Providers but in practice it means that the information will be available for consumers with disabilities and will be provided in a consistent format.
Implementation of the Code should commence straight away on new equipment. Part of the Equipment Suppliers’ obligation is to have a contact point to inform consumers that this information is available. There is a reasonably long implementation phase allowed, but consumers should begin to ask for the Accessibility Features Matrix straight away.
What Women Want – Work Choices Update
The What Women Want Project, Phase II, also continues to make progress. The Project is supported by the more that 60 women’s organisations affiliated with the 4 Secretariats of the OfW. In addition, each of the state and territory governments is monetarily supporting this Project in which the affect of the Work Choices legislation on employment outcomes for women is to be monitored. As signalled earlier in 2006, the initial phase of WWW is complete with the report “Women’s Pay and Conditions in an Era of Changing Workplace Regulations: Towards a Women’s Employment Status Key Indicators (WESKI) database” being available at http://www.nfaw.org/social/www/2006/WESKISept2006.pdf. This work for the report was conducted by the Women in Social and Economic Research group of academics, and was supported by Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the National Foundation for Australian Women and the Women’s Electoral Lobby.
In Phase II, interviews will be conducted with women from all over Australia. Recruitment of women interviewees has commenced.
NOTE: Any women with disabilities who would be interested in participating should contact Sue Salthouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Talking about Work – Security4Women Research Project
As a separate initiative, the Security4Women (S4W) Secretariat has been conducting some work to follow up from a first survey conducted 3 years ago. The prelude to the current “Talking about Work” project commenced with a 2003 survey in which women were asked to identify key issues in relation to their lifelong economic wellbeing. The 3000 women respondents identified a large number of issues, but three issues figured prominently: – work arrangements that help balance family and other responsibilities; equality of male and female wages and salaries and equal access to secure well paid jobs. In 2006, S4W undertook a similar survey, part of which asked women to revisit the 22 issues identified in 2003 and then indicate their current relevance. The prevalence of work related issues prompted some additional investigation. It was decided to conduct a series of Focus Groups (FGs) across Australia to further investigate this issue. The FGs were conducted by different facilitators, but national consistency is being achieved by using a uniform template of questions and FG protocols, and having all facilitators meet by teleconference prior to commencement of work.
Sue Salthouse facilitated a FG of 6 women with disabilities, 5 of whom are currently in the workforce with the 6th woman actively searching for work. Margaret Smith from ACT Soroptimists, a fellow WomenSpeak participant, acted as note taker. WWDA would like to thank the Mental Illness Foundation of the ACT for allowing us to use their office as the venue to conduct the FG. The issues that the women highlighted included a need for support from peers with disabilities in the workplace, and the disproportionate influence of other employees on their work output and quality – an empathetic, lateral thinking boss can mean that all challenges due to disabilities can be solved, whereas a negative attitude can mean they all escalate into insurmountable obstacles. The FGs feedback is still being collated, with results due for publishing in 2007.
National Women’s Secretariats Meeting
Representatives of organisations affiliated to the 4 Secretariats of the Office For Women (OFW) had a face-to-face meeting with a number of OfW staff in Canberra at the beginning of November. This meeting afforded us the opportunity to meet the new General Manager of OfW, Julia Burns. The meeting was held at the Hotel Kurranjong in Canberra, with Sue Salthouse representing WWDA. An important part of the meeting was a scheduled visit with the Hon. Julie Bishop MP, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues (and also Minister for Education, Science & Training). Thanks to the OfW for organising an accessible ACTION bus to take all representatives – a first venture into a bus for the WWDA delegate – over to Parliament House for the talks with the Minister, and for assistance getting around the carpetted halls of the Hotel Kurrajong and APH itself.
At the meeting, the Secretariats gave progress reports on the Key Issues consultations  which each one is undertaking in the 2006-07 financial year, and also tabled update reports on their general activities. Similarly the OfW tabled an update report on its activities. A major work of the meeting was to begin discussion on the formulation of a Work Plan for the Secretariats for 2007-08. International issues – the Australian hosting of the APEC Forum with an associated international Women’s Leadership Network forum (to be held in Port Douglas) in late June 2007; the CSW 51 Consultations (March 2007) including the procedure for nomination of candidates to accompany the Australian Government delegation, and discussion on improving the consultation process for CSW52 (March 2008).
An important presentation was that given on the results of the Personal Safety Survey which was released in August 2006. This last survey is not directly comparable with the previous one undertaken, because in this second survey the entire population is now included, rather than just Australian women as was done in the 1996 survey. This means that although some comparison can be made about the impact and incidence of violence against women, care must be taken when interpreting the two sets of results. The Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF) data will enable detailed examination of the information collected in the survey. CURF contains details available through the Remote Data Access Laboratory (RADL), including a list of all data items on the file, and background information about the Survey. The CURF was released on 5 December 2006, and will prove useful for organisations researching aspects of personal safety and incidence of violence.
Celebrating “Lifting & Raising of the Marriage Bar” in the APS
On 20 November 2006, Sue Salthouse as a WWDA member resident in Canberra was fortunate to attend a significant celebration for Australian women. The Australian Public Service (APS) Commissioner (Ms Lynelle Briggs) hosted a gathering to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the “Raising and Lifting of the Marriage Bar” in the APS. Prior to 1966 married women were not able to be employed on a permanent basis in the Commonwealth Public Service. Where employment of married women was sanctioned, they were restricted to temporary staffing positions. The ramifications of this were lack of access to superannuation, vulnerability to being made redundant and an inability to be promoted to supervisory positions. The legacies of this policy are still evident today. A superbly orchestrated evening was hosted by Julie McCrossin (of Good News Week and Great Debate fame) who interviewed a series of women whose working lives had been directly impinged upon by the Marriage Bar, or who had been instrumental in bringing about and implementing its demise. The evening culminated in a decade-by-decade costume parade where current women public servants, including the Commissioner, donned appropriate garb. A commemorative booklet on the history of women in the APS was written for the occasion by ACT historian, Adjunct Professor (School of Social Sciences, ANU) Marian Sawer. A soft copy of the booklet may be accessed online at http://www.apsc.gov.au/publications06/marriage.pdf. Whilst the celebrations were well justified, the evening prompted reflection, in the light of the current industrial climate and legislation, on how to consolidate, maintain and build on the gains that women have made thus far in the Australian workforce.
Meeting with Senator Rachel Seiwert
In response to the concerns raised by WWDA regarding the Standing Committee of Attorney’s General draft legislation “Children with Intellectual Disabilities (regulation of Sterilisation)” Bill 2006, Australian Greens’ Senator Rachel Siewert contacted WWDA Canberra, and a meeting was held with her at Parliament House on 10 November. Discussion ranged over this and a number of other issues concerning women with disabilities – the incidence of violence against them, mothers with disabilities, the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and the UN Convention on (all forms of) Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). WWDA thanks Senator Siewert for the time she gave us on a hectic morning of debate in the Senate; for her understanding of the stance WWDA has taken in advocating for a ban of sterilisation of girls with disabilities, and for her support of the WWDA position; for her pro-action in urging the Federal Government to be an early signatory to the UN Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities, and to commit to its implementation, and for her acknowledgement of WWDA’s general advocacy work.
International Day for People with Disability
WWDA representatives were involved in number of activities organised to celebrate the International Day for People with Disabilities (IDPWD). IDPWD is always held on the 3rd December, which in 2006 fell on a Sunday. For this reason a number of the official functions were held either side of the weekend. WWDA would like to thank Jodie Stanley and Gay Jennings who were our official representatives at the FaCSIA celebration. This was held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Canberra. Organisers for such events do need to be especially aware of the necessity to cater for a wide range of disabilities. Consultation is in order to ensure that all attendees have equitable access to proceedings. In this instance, Live Captioning of the event would have assisted those in the audience who are not AUSLAN users, who unfortunately were excluded from verbal proceedings. WWDA has contacted the event host, the Hon John Cobb MP Minister for Community Services, in the hope of achieving full participation of all attendees at future gatherings.
On the preceding Friday, representatives of WWDACT Louise Bannister, Jodie Stanley and Mignon King attended the ACT Inclusion Awards ceremony held at the Hyatt Hotel. WWDA’s congratulations go to the Belconnen Community Service ‘Women on the Way’ Project which was the winner of the Community Projects section of the Awards. Congratulations are also due to Louise who is a mentor and facilitator on this initiative in which 3 term-long work-ready training courses for women with disabilities have been held. A 4th session will be held in 2007. Mignon and Jodie are to be congratulated on their success as graduates of the 2nd and 3rd training courses respectively. WWDACT has a policy of working with organisations in the ACT to promote their capacity for inclusion, and built on the success it had in cooperation with the ACT Women’s Centre for Health Matters’ “Well and Able” Fun Fitness Project in 2005. It will be seeking to work with other organisations in 2007.
At another Canberra venue, Sue Salthouse was a guest speaker, along with former paralympian weightlifter and now AIS staffer Richard Nicholson, at the Department of Defence celebration of the Day. The Department has a proactive policy, which takes up the APS call for employment of people with disabilities. Results of an in-house photographic competition were announced during the morning session which was followed by morning tea with an opportunity to view the competition entries.
WWDA will always be glad of opportunities to participate in IDPWD, because of the positive influence it has in promoting focus on and celebration of Ability. However at the same time WWDA is all too aware in its advocacy work that sustaining the euphoria of a single day remains a challenge for all in Australian society.
AFDO Annual General Meeting and new Board of Directors
The Australian Federation of Disability Organisations (AFDO) held its second AGM on 21st November in Sydney in conjunction with the ACOSS AGM and Sector Day. The achievements made by the Federation in a this short amount of time are manifold. Since the AFDO constitution requires that its Directors hold a 2-year term in office, the 2006 meeting saw some primary member organisations nominate new candidates for election. WWDA’s representative for the inaugural two years of operation has been Samantha Jenkinson. Sam took on the additional responsibility of treasurer for the Board. Prior to the meeting WWDA realised that it had no formal nomination procedure and took steps to rectify this situation. The Management Committee has now drawn up and agreed on a set of nomination guidelines. Using these, a Committee election was held for a 2007 nominee, and we were pleased to be able to democratically re-nominate Sam. She was duly elected to the new Board of Directors, and at a Board Meeting following the AGM was elected by that body to the position of Chair of AFDO for the next two years. WWDA congratulates her, and wishes her and the Board all the best for its term in office. The full list of Board members may be accessed at http://afdo.org.au/node/2. WWDA would also like to take the opportunity to thank Maurice Corcoran for his wise leadership and stewardship of AFDO as its Chairperson during its inaugural years of operation.
WWDA now offers Credit Card facilities for Payment of Membership and Sales of Publications
WWDA has recently established a credit card facility to enable members and others to pay for WWDA membership payments, make donations, and purchase publications. Payments can be made via telephone (03 6244 8288) or by requesting a credit card payment form from the WWDA office. All WWDA Membership Renewal forms will now include a credit card payment form.
Appendix One: Contacts for Federal/State/Territory Attorney’s General & Standing Committee of Attorney’s General
Hon Philip Ruddock
Federal Attorney General
Canberra ACT 2600
Hon Bob Debus
Attorney General NSW
Hon Steven Kons
Attorney General TAS
Hon Kerry Shine
Attorney General QLD
Hon Rob Hulls
Attorney General VIC
Hon Simon Corbell
Attorney General ACT
Hon. Michael Atkinson
Attorney General SA
Hon Jim McGinty
Attorney General WA
Hon Syd Stirling
Attorney General NT
Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG)
c/- SCAG Secretariat
8-12 Chifley Square
SYDNEY NSW 2000
Ph: 02 9228 8063 or 02 9228 7313
Fax: 02 9228 8563
 WomenSpeak = Childcare, National Rural Women’s Coalition = Transportation Issues for women in rural, regional and remote Australia, S4W = Key Issues for Women follow-up survey, Australian Women’s Coalition = women’s health and the life/work/family balance.