Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA): Leadership and Mentoring Project 1999 Background

Despite the fact that in Australia, approximately 18% of all women are disabled and more than 50% of people with disabilities are women (Mulder 1996), women with disabilities continue to be categorised as a special interest group; their experience is isolated from the mainstream and marginalised. Women with disabilities in Australia:

  • are less likely to be in paid work than other women, men with disabilities or the population as a whole. Men with disabilities are almost twice as likely to have jobs than women with disabilities.
  • earn less than their male counterparts. 51% of women with a disability earn less than $200 per week compared to 36% of men with a disability. Only 16% of women with a disability earn over $400 per week, compared to 33% of men with a disability.
  • are less likely than their male counterparts to receive a senior secondary and tertiary education. Only 16% of all women with disabilities are likely to have any secondary education compared to 28% of men with disabilities.
  • are less likely to own their own houses than their male counterparts.
  • pay the highest level of their gross income on housing, yet are in the lowest income earning bracket.
  • are more likely to be institutionalised than their male counterparts.
  • regardless of age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or class are assaulted, raped and abused at a rate of at least two times greater than non-disabled women.
  • are often forced to live in situations in which they are vulnerable to violence.
  • are more likely to experience violence at work than other women, men with disabilities or the population as a whole.
  • are more likely to be unlawfully sterilised than their male counterparts.
  • are less likely to receive vocational rehabilitation or entry to labour market programs.
  • report a greater need for unmet help than their male counterparts.
  • are less likely to receive appropriate services than men with equivalent needs or other women.

(Anderson 1996; Frohmader 1998; WWDA 1998; ABS 1993).

Despite these facts, women with disabilities in Australia have traditionally been rendered invisible by the women’s movement and they have also been rendered peripheral by the disability movement. It was for this reason that women with disabilities in this country believed that they needed their own political movement. WWDA was incorporated in 1995, although it had been operating as an unfunded network within another organisation for eight years previous to that. WWDA was formed by a group of women with disabilities who believed that the needs and issues of women with disabilities in Australia were not being acknowledged or addressed. Australian women with disabilities were concerned to explore issues of sexuality and sexual identity; to challenge stereotypical images and oppressive mores relating to child-bearing and rearing; to integrate physical and social aspects of self-presentation with critical analysis of the dependent, non-assertive disabled woman which society ‘requires’. For many women with disabilities in Australia, these issues were seen as central, not adjunctive to the disability rights movement.

One of the important goals of WWDA is to seek to ensure opportunities in all walks of life for all women with disabilities. In this, WWDA aims to increase awareness of, and address issues faced by, women with disabilities in the community. It links women with disabilities from around Australia, providing opportunities to identify and discuss issues of common concern. WWDA works in partnership with other disability organisations and women’s organisations, and generates and disseminates information to women with disabilities, their families and carers, service providers, government and the media. WWDA is inclusive and does not discriminate against any disability.

The objectives of Women With Disabilities Australia are:

  • to develop a network of women with disabilities throughout Australia to work together for their mutual benefit;
  • to advocate for every woman with a disability to have the opportunity for true involvement in all levels of society;
  • to develop leadership and the sharing of responsibilities to enable women with disabilities to take their place in whatever section of society they choose;
  • to change social attitudes, practices, and power relationships which discriminate against women with disabilities;
  • to lobby for the implementation of procedures and enactment of legislation which will advance and benefit all women with disabilities and combat sexism;
  • to inform and educate the public with a view to advancing the opportunities for women in the political, creative, civil and social fields.

Leadership

One of the major strategies WWDA employs to reach its objectives and ultimately its goals, is to facilitate and promote leadership for women with disabilities in Australia. Leadership is a major issue for women with disabilities in Australia. Lack of training opportunities, employment and education mean that women with disabilities have few chances to develop leadership skills. In most states of Australia, education for women with disabilities is not compulsory. As an organisation, WWDA is very committed to promoting leadership and mentoring for women with disabilities in Australia. Enabling women with disabilities to acquire new knowledge and skills, and by providing them with opportunities for self-development and increased confidence, is one way WWDA can work towards achieving equality for women with disabilities in Australia.

WWDA is very committed to promoting leadership and mentoring for women with disabilities in Australia. In early 1995, WWDA was represented at the International Women’s Conference held in Beijing, and in 1997, WWDA was represented at the International Leadership Forum for Women with Disabilities, held in Washington. These two international meetings identified the need for leadership training for all women, including women with disabilities. In October 1997, WWDA conducted a National Leadership Workshop for women with disabilities in Australia. Several of the recommendations from this Workshop identified the need for WWDA to develop strategies and processes which would foster leadership for women with disabilities. It was identified by women with disabilities that a leadership and mentoring package and program was needed in order to foster and develop leadership skills for women with disabilities in Australia.

In 1998, WWDA applied to the Global Fund for Women (based in the United States) for funding to enable the development of a Leadership & Mentoring Program for women with disabilities in Australia. The outcomes and recommendations from the WWDA Leadership Workshop (conducted in 1997) were used to formulate WWDA’s submission to the Global Fund for Women. This submission was successful and in late 1998, WWDA received $15,000 US dollars to undertake the Project.

In early 1999, WWDA contracted a Consultant (Ms Anne Storr, member WWDA Tasmania) to undertake the first part of the Project which is to develop a Leadership and Mentoring Resource Kit for women with disabilities. The Kit is to be made up of 3 parts or sections. The Kit will be developed in such a way that will enable each section to be used on its own, or as a complete package.

The objective of the Consultancy Project is to:

  • develop a Leadership and Mentoring Resource Kit which can be implemented by each State/Territory and regional branch of WWDA, irrespective of the stage of development of each group.

Consultancy Project Outcomes

The main outcome of the Consultancy Project is to develop a Leadership and Mentoring Resource Kit for Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA). The requirements of each section of the Kit are outlined here. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the content of each section of the Kit, but rather to act as a guide in the development of each section.

Part One of the Leadership and Mentoring Resource Kit will need to include information on at least the following:

  • an introduction to leadership including definition and discussion of why leadership is important for women with disabilities;
  • self-esteem and confidence (including definitions and discussion of why this is an issue for women with disabilities and so on);
  • assertiveness and public speaking (including definitions and discussion of why this is an issue for women with disabilities and so on);
  • rationale and discussion of why a woman with a disability would want to become involved in WWDA (or any other group etc), why it is important for women with disabilities to ‘speak up’; to talk about their experiences, etc, and why it is important for women with disabilities to develop the confidence, knowledge and skills to assist them to work for change;
  • an introduction to mentoring including definition and discussion of why mentoring is important for women with disabilities;
  • description of the process of mentoring, including why it is important for each State and Territory WWDA group to identify a mentor and a woman to be mentored.

Part Two of the Leadership and Mentoring Resource Kit will need to include information on at least the following:

  • group formation – how to form a group; reasons why women with disabilities might want to form a group; group processes; what makes an effective group; roles and responsibilities of groups; group dynamics and so on;
  • decision making – processes of decision-making; effective ways of decision-making in women’s groups; collective and consensus models of decision-making;
  • promoting leadership and mentoring in groups;
  • identifying needs at the local level etc;
  • promoting the group and enlisting new members;
  • networking.

Part Three of the Leadership and Mentoring Resource Kit will need to include information on at least the following:

  • formalising a group;
  • how to become incorporated (including information where to find information and other resources on incorporation); the rationale for incorporation;
  • legal requirements of groups (both incorporated and un-incorporated);
  • developing a Constitution for the group (to include an example of a model constitution);
  • forming a Committee; election procedures and meeting procedures;
  • ideas and suggestions for how groups can generate support from their local community resources (such as enlisting the support of local community development workers, women’s services, local MP’s, disability organisations and so on);
  • financial management (including setting up bank accounts, applying for tax exemption status, charging of membership fees and so on);
  • report writing and accountability to members, funding bodies and the National WWDA Office;
  • basic planning and evaluation for groups;
  • conducting and participating in consultations;
  • ideas and suggestions on how to find out about, and apply for funding through grants processes etc (to include suggestions of places where groups can access information about funding sources;
  • basic submission writing techniques (perhaps to include an example of a funding submission); resources groups can use to get assistance with submission writing and so on.
  • how to apply to the WWDA National Executive Committee to request that the particular State/Territory or regional group becomes a formal branch of WWDA.

If you would like more information about the WWDA Leadership and Mentoring Project, please contact:

Carolyn Frohmader
Women With Disabilities Australia
PO Box 605, Rosny Park, Tasmania, 2602
Ph: (03) 62448288
Fax: (03) 62448255
email: wwda@wwda.org.au