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Susan Sherrard, Team Leader for CCS Disability Action’s Disability Action Team in Auckland, shares her thoughts on the importance of celebrating disabled wahine on International Women’s Day.

Today is International Women’s Day- A time to celebrate women! The work we do, the lives we live, the leadership we provide and the people that we love, all deserve celebration. Our mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties, cousins, friends, colleagues, all women – we acknowledge and thank you.

For the past few years the Disabled Women’s Forum and CCS Disability Action Northern Region have celebrated disabled women on International Women’s Day. We have had international speakers from disabled women’s organisations, speakers from our own disabled community and celebrations with high tea and women’s art work from Mapura Studios. This year is no different – we have invited three disabled women leaders to share with us their leadership stories. Stories of being leaders in the areas of service provision, politics and parenting.

Does it really matter? What difference does it make to invite disabled women together and learn from each other’s sharing?

Yes, it matters. Disabled women are doubly disadvantaged in society and indigenous women, triply disadvantaged. We are still paid less than men, if we are fortunate enough to be employed. We are over represented in statistics related to abuse and neglect. We are amongst the poorest people and have low health outcomes. Our housing situations are often unsuitable, inaccessible and overcrowded. Our difficulty attending events is considered to be our lack of interest or commitment, rather than the lack of accessible transport or venue options.

Attitudes towards us are still based around us as victims, burdens and needing to be ‘looked after’. We are not considered to be strong capable women with talents and skills to offer. When we get angry we are patronised and belittled. When something goes wrong this is not seen as a one-off event, but as if this is how our lives are and we need to change.

Our ‘bad days’ are attributed to our impairments and lives not worth living, rather than the odd occurrence. We are needy within our families rather than caregivers to our children and equal partners.

When we come together to share our stories – we recognise each other. We know the similarities and can honour the differences. We don’t need to judge but can accept each other for who we are. We understand the struggle in a society that doesn’t accept us as we are. We see each other as whole, not broken beings as a current advertisement suggests. We can support each other to be ok as we are, not perfect but living our lives. We can learn from each other – as Stella Young talked about BBQ tongs are a great way to pick things up off the floor!

Women with Disabilities Australia have developed a Human Rights toolkit for disabled women and girls. This is a free resource, and while all the fine points will be Australian based, the big picture of Human Rights will be relevant to New Zealand disabled women and girls.

It’s free to read and download.

Please share this resource with all disabled women and girls.

I look forward to the day when disabled women and girls are equal. That our rights are respected and we are celebrated along-side our nondisabled sisters. Until then we need to stick together, remember our value and celebrate together.

Sue Sherrard 

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