WWDA Acceptance Speech at the Australian Heads of Government National Violence Prevention Awards

In 1999, Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) was awarded the Australian Heads of Government National Violence Prevention Award in recognition of WWDA’s groundbreaking work in the area of preventing violence against women with disabilities. That same year, WWDA also won the Australian Capital Territory Violence Prevention Award. The Australian Heads of Government National Violence Prevention Award was awarded to WWDA at a function at Parliament House, Canberra, in October 1999. This is a transcript of WWDA’s acceptance speech, delivered by Fiona Strahan on behalf of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA). Copyright WWDA October 1999.

It is an honour to accept this Award for Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) and I do so in the memory of all the women with disabilities who have experienced violence and for those who were able to say “It has to stop” and “It can be different”.

The work that has culminated in this Award is:

  • The Woorarra Women’s Refuge Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) Action Plan;
  • ‘More Than Just A Ramp’ – a model process for refuges to remove discriminatory barriers in their buildings, work practices, information and attitudes;
  • A National two-day workshop on violence against women with disabilities, attended by women with disabilities, domestic violence and other workers, and academics;
  • A National Information Kit on women with disabilities and violence; and
  • A National Internet site incorporating accessible information on violence and women with disabilities.

All this work brought many women with disabilities and women’s services together resulting in powerful ongoing collaboration with the ownership remaining in the control of women with disabilities, and has been done by an unpaid committee of women with disabilities and the WWDA office, staffed by one Executive Officer.

The women’s services involved saw the glaring absence of women with disabilities as workers and as service users and wanted to be part of the change to this inequity. Their commitment to this change was bigger than just keeping to minimum legal responsibility – their learning curve steep and their openness great.

This work has influenced and affected a wide range of policies and programs here in Australia and around the world. Here it has resulted in the first Commonwealth funded National Research into Violence Against Women With Disabilities. Internationally this work has been used by Rehabilitation Services in Israel, the National Peak Body for Refuges in New Zealand, and judges in Canada as a way for change and for best practice.

So, for WWDA and for all Australian women with disabilities, it is brilliant to have won this Award. When I first started working and agitating around disability, we looked to Sweden, then Britain, then the United States – and it is good to now lead.

This Award is an acknowledgment of the unpaid agitation, research, policy work, lobbying, activism, political astuteness and intellectual rigour of the work of women with disabilities. I particularly like that we haven’t won the ‘Special’ Award; the ‘Otherness’ Award or the ‘Disability’ Award – instead our work stands loud, proud, passionate and leading edge for ALL women.

As I finish, I’d like to thank the loud, proud, passionate and wild women who made all this possible:

  • The original WWDA Violence Reference Group – Kali Wilde, Madge Sceriha and Vicky Toovey – who have plotted and planned and created amazing feats;
  • The amazing WWDA Office – past Executive Officer Helen Skeat, present Executive Officer Carolyn Frohmader, and Nerida Gundry – who on wages which would be laughed at in the private sector or the public service – have worked above and beyond the call of duty;
  • Women from Victoria – Jenny Nunn, Kathy Russell, Lindy Corbett, Francesca Davenport and all the women in the DDA Working Group;
  • The courageous women with disabilities who came to the discussion groups and trusted me as they shared their lives, insight and knowledge – they all came with a powerful commitment to life being different for other women and themselves;
  • All the women (too many to mention here) who provided support and advice at various stages of the project;
  • The unpaid Australia-wide WWDA National Executive Committee;
  • The National WWDA Office of one person; and
  • The Commonwealth Office of the Status of Women (OSW) for the project funding, and particularly Di Herriot from OSW for her ongoing support.

As the tendering out process for projects becomes so common, communities risk losing their histories and their intelligence – when a community such as women with disabilities gets to do its own work but have it positively affect ALL people and own it – it is revolutionary. We have been studied, interviewed, reviewed and consulted by a myriad of professions – to do it ourselves for ourselves and so well, is WILD!