As a woman with a disability, my independence and empowerment are Circumstantial

Stories | March 5, 2024 | Author: Stevie Wills, CBM Associate

CBM Associate, Stevie Wills’, reflects on International Women’s Day. 
 
It scares me when I’m reminded afresh that my independence and empowerment are circumstantial. 

Today is International Women’s Day, for which this year’s rally cry is to #InspireInclusion. The vision is an inclusive, gender equal world free from exclusion and discrimination. In reflecting on this year’s theme, I’m struck by how circumstantial inclusion can be. 

As a woman with a disability in Australia, I can find myself very quickly moving from experiencing empowerment to being disempowered. 

In August 2022, I had spent a day in Parliament House in Canberra, alongside fellow Christian women who are leaders of organisations, churches and within their communities. We met with politicians, lobbying the Australian Government as part of the SaferWorld4All campaign.  

That evening, on the way home to Melbourne, I waited to board my flight while a group of flight staff were in discussion a several metres away. After a few minutes I realised that they were talking about me.

A man from the group came to tell me that the staff weren’t sure that I could fly because I couldn’t communicate. I sensed that he didn’t agree with the group’s consensus. “But they haven’t even spoken to me,” I said, “how am I going to get home?”   

Anxiety rose.  

I was on my own at Canberra Airport, I hadn’t been spoken, or listened, to and choices were being made for me.  

That very morning, I had advocated on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people with confidence. Politicians and women in leadership and influential positions heard every word I said and the concern in my voice. Just hours later, I was rendered voiceless… powerless… and frightened. 

Empowerment to Disempowerment within a few hours. 

A few weeks ago, I spent the day with my support worker, who assisted me to run errands and attend appointments. Her support enabled me to tend to my properties for that day. Towards the end of the day, I had a routine medical scan. That scan required physical vulnerability. During the consultation, the nurse did not speak to me at all. Instead, she spoke to my support worker about me and what I needed to do. I was overlooked; made invisible while in a vulnerable position. It left me feeling uncomfortable for a couple of days. 

Empowerment to Disempowerment within a few hours. 

My story is one of millions that demonstrate the gulf between reality and an inclusive, gender equal world free from exclusion and discrimination.  


Women and girls with disabilities are the most marginalised and excluded group in every setting.   

They are four times more likely to suffer sexual violence then men with disabilities and women without disabilities. They are it up to five times less likely to obtain employment then men with disabilities and women who don’t have a disability. It is extremely rare to find a woman with a disability in a leadership position, which leaves the specific needs of women with disabilities unaddressed at leadership level.

For international development efforts to be effective in reducing poverty and disadvantage, the specific needs of women with disabilities must be taken into account. 

These needs cannot be identified and addressed without the input of women with disabilities. Given that the empowerment and independence of a woman who lives with a disability is contextual, a holistic approach must be taken, implementing disability inclusion and accessibility into all aspects of development work and across communities. 

This International Women’s Day let’s #InspireInclusion and each reflect on what steps we can all take towards an inclusive, gender equal world free from exclusion and discrimination. 

 

About Stevie Wills

Since 2011, Stevie has worked for CBM Australia as a volunteer, employee and an associate. She has advocated for the empowerment and inclusion of people with disabilities in low- to middle-income countries, as well as disability inclusion among Christian communities in Australia. Stevie speaks of inclusion and empowerment, with a focus on people with disabilities. She has a passion for the power of words to create social change. 

Read more from Stevie on our website

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