May 2004


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 on some of WWDA’s activities for the month of May 2004. If you have any questions, or would like more information on anything in this report, please email Carolyn at: wwda@wwda.org.au


1. Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities

At the meeting of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG) in August 2003, Ministers agreed that:

  • A nationally consistent approach to the authorisation procedures required for the lawful sterilisation of minors with a decision making disability is appropriate;
  • State and Territory officers in consultation with Commonwealth officers should develop draft model State and Territory provisions to confer on guardianship or similar tribunals jurisdiction to authorise sterilisation procedures on minors with a decision making disability, such jurisdiction to operate concurrently with that of the Family Court of Australia and the Federal Magistrates Service; and
  • In developing the draft model State and Territory provisions, officers should develop options for nationally consistent criteria for such authorisation by guardianship or similar tribunals for further discussion.

A working party of State and Territory officers was established to progress the draft model Bill and Guidelines. In late April 2004, the SCAG released an Issues Paper regarding this proposed Bill and Guidelines.

WWDA has recently completed its Submission to the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments in response to the SCAG Issues Paper. WWDA’s submission has been informed by women with disabilities whose lives have been touched by sterilisation. WWDA is deeply concerned that the Government’s proposed legislation infringes the human rights of people with disabilities. The principles upon which the proposed Bill is grounded, undermine the right to bodily integrity, the right to bear children and the right to individual value and autonomy. WWDA asserts 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 does not support the Government’s current proposal to develop a nationally consistent approach to the authorisation procedures required for the lawful sterilisation of minors with a decision-making disability. WWDA strongly recommends 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’s Submission has been widely distributed. A copy of WWDA’s Submission to the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments regarding Non-Therapeutic Sterilisation of Minors with a Decision-Making Disability is available on WWDA’s website (‘Submissions to Government’). Go to: http://www.wwda.org.au/sterilisesub1.htm

If anyone would like a copy of the Submission emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email on: wwda@wwda.org.au

Copies of the SCAG Issues Paper are also available from the WWDA Office.


2. National Summit on Health Services for People with Disabilities

In February 2004, WWDA developed a Submission to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) requesting that HREOC undertake a Public Inquiry into Access to Breast & Cervical Screening for Women with Disabilities in Australia. In responding to WWDA, Dr Sev Ozdowski, (Acting Disability Discrimination Commissioner) proposed that one possible means for addressing the issue would be for HREOC to convene a national summit meeting, which could cover access to breast and cervical screening services but also cover other key issues in access to health facilities and services for people with disabilities.

The National Summit on Health Services for People with Disabilities was held in Sydney on May 28th 2004, and was convened by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). The Summit was attended by representatives from national disability organisations, as well as representatives from the medical and health sectors.

WWDA was represented at the Summit by Keran Howe (Vic) and Annie Parkinson (NSW). Keran presented a paper on behalf of WWDA entitled ‘Lack of Data Means lack of Action: A Clinical Examination of Access to Health Services for Women with Disabilities’. The paper examined a range of issues, including: the impact of structural inequality on health; the medicalisation of disability; lack of data (particularly in relation to access to breast and cervical screening for women with disabilities); and systemic barriers facing women with disabilities in accessing health services.

A copy of WWDA’s Paper ‘Lack of Data Means lack of Action: A Clinical Examination of Access to Health Services for Women with Disabilities’ will soon be made available on WWDA’s website (‘Submissions to Government’). If anyone would like a copy of the paper emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email on: wwda@wwda.org.au

WWDA will continue to report back to members on the outcomes of the Summit in the coming weeks.


3. Disabled People’s International (DPI) World Summit

Disabled People’s International (DPI) is holding its World Summit in Winnipeg, Canada September 8-10, 2004. A major objective for DPI is the promotion of equality and diversity within its organization. The theme for the World Summit will be diversity of people and their cultures and will focus on women, youth, and Indigenous & Arab peoples.

WWDA has been selected to present a Paper at the Disabled People’s International (DPI) World Summit in Canada in September 2004. WWDA will present its National Project on the Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities. Included in this will be discussion of emancipatory research by women with disabilities. The presentation will include the findings of the Project, the ongoing outcomes and achievements, and implications for the future.

Leanne Dowse (who co-ordinated WWDA’s National Project on the Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities) and Annie Parkinson will be representing WWDA at the DPI World Summit.


4. WWDA Conference Presentations

4.1. National Organisation of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) Conference

The National Organisation of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) was first formed in 1987 based on the ideals of building a grassroots, independent and autonomous network of women students. The first NOWSA Conference was held in Brisbane in 1988 and over the years has grown to become a key event on the feminist annual calendar. It is a women only conference hosted by a different university in Australia each year. NOWSA 2004 will be held at Southern Cross University in Lismore (NSW), July 12-16th. WWDA has been invited to give a keynote address at the NOWSA Conference in July. Sue Salthouse (ACT) will be presenting the Keynote address on behalf of WWDA. Sue’s paper will examine the status of women with disabilities in Australia and address the key issues facing women with disabilities.

For more information about the NOWSA Conference, go to: http://www.nowsa.com.au

4.2. Inaugural Conference on Social Aspects of Disease, Disability and Disablement

The Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society (University of Melbourne) is holding the Inaugural Conference on Social Aspects of Disease, Disability and Disablement at the University of Melbourne, 1-2 July 2004. The aim of this Conference is to facilitate dialogue about future areas of research and to foster an environment in which individuals can explore avenues for research collaboration. WWDA has been invited to present at this Conference. Jenny Bridge-Wright will be presenting a paper on behalf of WWDA at the Conference. Jenny’s paper will examine access to breast and cervical screening for women with disabilities. It will also address the critical need for specific research to inform strategies that educate, include and measure, the participation of women with disabilities in breast and cervical cancer screening.

For more information about the Inaugural Conference on Social Aspects of Disease, Disability and Disablement, go to: http://www.kcwh.unimelb.edu.au/

4.3. Fifth Australian Women’s Health Conference – Reflecting on Gender, Confronting the Evidence

The 5th Australian Women’s Health Conference is being held on 20-22 April 2005 at the Carlton Crest Hotel in Victoria. The Conference will provide a forum for individuals, organisations and services involved and concerned with women’s health. Building on the national and international knowledge and research generated over the past two decades, this conference will examine the evidence from the perspective of gender as a determinant of women’s health, in all its dimensions. WWDA will be submitting an abstract to present a paper at the 5th Australian Women’s Health Conference. In line with WWDA’s policy priority areas, WWDA’s proposed paper will focus on Sterilisation and Reproductive health of Women and Girls with Disabilities. WWDA will discuss its National Project on the Sterilisation and Reproductive Health of Women and Girls with Disabilities, including discussion of emancipatory research by women with disabilities, along with the findings of the Project, the ongoing outcomes and achievements, and implications for the future.

For more information about the 5th Australian Women’s Health Conference, go to: http://www.womenshealth2005.com.au/

4.4. National Conference on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault – Melbourne September 2004

The ‘Home Truths’ Conference is being held in Melbourne 15-17 September 2004. This National Conference aims to discuss, debate and highlight practice and policy issues relating to sexual assault and domestic and family violence. WWDA has submitted an abstract to present a paper at this Conference on Domestic Violence & Women with Disabilities. WWDA’s paper will examine the reasons for the higher incidence of domestic violence experienced by women with disabilities. It will look at the extra barriers which prevent women with disabilities from leaving a situation of domestic violence. It will question the attitude of women’s organisations which ignore the experiences of the sisterhood of women with disabilities. It will pry into the world of policy makers which ignore the particular needs of women with disabilities in addressing the question of domestic violence.

For further information about the Home Truths Conference, go to: http://www.secasa.com.au/conference/


5. WWDA Outcomes Report for FaCS

WWDA receives a small amount of operational funding each year from the Commonwealth Department of Family & Community Services (FaCS). WWDA has a funding contract with the Department, and is required to report against the outcomes specified in the contract.

Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) has recently completed its Outcomes Report for the period July 2003 – April 2004. The purpose of this document is to highlight some of WWDA’s major achievements during the period July 2003 – April 2004, in line with WWDA’s Funding Contract with the Commonwealth Department of Family & Community Services (FaCS) National Secretariat Program.

WWDA has achieved a significant amount during the past 10 months. The achievements of the organization, along with the high standard of its work, represent extremely good value for the Commonwealth Government. The outcomes achieved also serve to demonstrate the unique capacity of WWDA to fulfill the role of providing effective consumer advocacy to address the needs of women with disabilities and sound policy advice and quality information for and about women with disabilities. The Outcomes Report also demonstrates WWDA’s strong links to its membership base, along with the strategic partnerships the organization has formed with other stakeholders.

WWDA will be meeting with officers from the Commonwealth Department of Family & Community Services (FaCS) National Secretariat Program in late June 2004. The purpose of this meeting is to review WWDA’s performance for the past 12 months, and also re-negotiate WWDA’s operational funding for the 2004-2005 year.

WWDA’s Outcomes Report has been widely distributed. A copy of WWDA’s Outcomes Report for the period July 2003 – April 2004 will soon be made available on WWDA’s website. If anyone would like a copy of the Report emailed to them, please contact the WWDA Office via email on: wwda@wwda.org.au


6. WWDA Telecommunications Group – Activities for May 2004

During May, Sue Salthouse (WWDA Telecommunications Group Convenor) attended the Australian Communications Industry Forum Disability Advisory Body (ACIF DAB) meeting in Sydney. A report on that meeting has been posted separately on wwda-discuss.

Preceding the regular quarterly meeting was a half day combined workshop where the ACIF DAB met with an ACIF Working Party who are developing guidelines and a code for the inclusion of plain English information about all the functions of a piece of telephone equipment. It is essential that manufacturers supply this information to carriage service providers and that they in turn make it available to customers. Many of the standard functions of equipment are not properly described. Many functions which can be of particular use to people with disabilities are thus overlooked. More importantly, many standard functions can be moderated or used in conjunction with other equipment to make them useable by people with disabilities. The joint meeting was conducted both face-to-face and simultaneously by teleconference with Melbourne working party members.

Four telecommunication notices have been posted on wwda-discuss during the month. The synopsis of the TCCC E-news precipitated a string of on-line discussion about unjust treatment of subscribers to telephone services. Although the culprit corporation was not Telstra, the discussion highlighted the need for subscribers to have some recourse to have their complaints heard. A follow-up positing outlined the course to be taken.

Sue was invited to join a panel assisting Disability ACT in allocating $50,000 in funding to help people with disabilities in the ACT to bridge the Digital Divide. Over 70 applications for various combinations of computer equipment, assistive equipment, training, and ISP subscription were received. A large number of applicants will benefit from an allocation of funding.

Information about the member organisations and operation was given to PDCNSW.


7. National Survey to Produce Data on Violence Against Women

During May, WWDA received a Media Release from the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, Senator Patterson, announcing the National Survey to Produce Data on Violence Against Women. The 2005 Personal Safety Survey is being funded under the National Initiative to Combat Sexual Assault and Partnerships Against Domestic Violence, and will produce national data on violence against women, establishing the nature and prevalence of physical and sexual violence against women and men aged 18 years and over in Australia.

WWDA has written to the Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women (OSW) to seek assurance that the 2005 Personal Safety Survey will include data collection on violence against women with disabilities. Until recent years, there has been a profound silence around the experiences of violence among women with disabilities. The issues for women with disabilities have largely been excluded from most generic policies and from responses to the issue of women and violence. Women with disabilities are largely invisible in both the disability and women’s movements, a situation that has relegated them to a position of extreme marginalisation and consequently, to increased risks and experiences of violence.

There is a dearth of research in Australia about the relationship between gender, violence and disability. Research into the extent of violence against women with disabilities in Australia is also limited by the lack of data collected on disability by law enforcement agencies and violence support services. There is no data collected on any aspect of violence against women with disabilities in Australia. Services, including violence services and other SAAP funded services, do not collect data on women with disabilities. For example, the State and Territory SAAP National Data Collection Annual Reports, provide data on Indigenous Australians and people from a Non-English Speaking Background, but do not provide any data, nor indeed, any reference to, people with disabilities.

In Australia, the nature and extent of violence against women with disabilities is mainly derived from qualitative research which has tended to explore violence in relation to barriers to accessing services or with people with intellectual disabilities in institutional care.

Senator Kay Patterson, in her Media Release of May 17 announcing the National Survey to Produce Data on Violence Against Women, stated: “Gathering high quality statistical information is of vital importance to continuing to develop and evaluate policies and programs that prevent violence against women.” Given the extent, pervasive nature, and incidence of violence against women with disabilities, coupled with the serious failure of services to respond adequately to women with disabilities experiencing violence, WWDA has strongly recommended to the Commonwealth Government that the National Survey to Produce Data on Violence Against Women must, as a priority, include data collection on violence against women with disabilities.


8. New on the WWDA Website

Recent additions to the WWDA website include:

WWDA Submission to the Commonwealth and State/Territory Governments regarding Non-Therapeutic Sterilisation of Minors with a Decision-Making Disability.
Go to: http://www.wwda.org.au/saviolsub.htm

WWDA Update Bulletin March 2004.
Go to: http://www.wwda.org.au/bullmar04.htm