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BLOG: Women with Disabilities - Questions We Need Answered

2 October 2014 at 10:51 am
Lina Caneva
A recent forum saw women with disabilities ask the three major parties contesting the Victorian State Election in November to answer questions around healthcare, equal access and violence against women writes, systemic advocate for inclusive practices, Tricia Malowney.

Lina Caneva | 2 October 2014 at 10:51 am


BLOG: Women with Disabilities - Questions We Need Answered
2 October 2014 at 10:51 am

A recent forum saw women with disabilities ask the three major parties contesting the Victorian State Election in November to answer questions around healthcare, equal access and violence against women writes, systemic advocate for inclusive practices, Tricia Malowney.

Women with Disabilities Victoria (WDV) has long been at the forefront of Systemic advocacy, ensuring that the voices of Victorian women with disabilities continue to be the primary informants on issues which impact on our capacity to be equal citizens.  

This week they again showed that they are a force to be reckoned with, by convening a forum where women with disabilities ask the three major parties to answer questions relating to the Women with Disabilities Victoria 2014 Election Statement.  It was terrific to see our supporters in the mainstream and disability sectors, join with so many women with disabilities attendance.

WDV has strong leadership with Keran Howe as Executive Director and Marija Groen as chair of the Board, and together they facilitated a forum attended by the three main parties contesting the State election to be held in November.  

Andrea Coote, the Parliamentary Secretary for Community Services represented the Liberal Party, Danielle Greene, who is the Labor Party spokesperson on Reducing Family Violence, and Colleen Hartland, with portfolio responsibility for women, disability and family violence, represented the Greens.

Through their Election Statement, WDV requests that political parties commit to three vital areas of action:

1.     Address the high rate of violence against women with disabilities

Discrimination based on gender and disability increases the risk of violence for women with disabilities. They experience extremely high levels of violence and abuse – in their homes and in the wider community, including in health settings – yet remain largely excluded from violence prevention and response services and supports.

2.     Make sure that women with disabilities have full and appropriate access to health care and health promotion.

Women with disabilities spend a large part of their income on health related expenses yet they are less likely than other women to receive appropriate health services. They have difficulty accessing breast, cervical and bowel cancer screening programs, are more likely to be unlawfully sterilised and are more likely to face medical interventions to control their fertility.

3.     Commit to equal access for women with disabilities in education, housing, employment and support services.

On socio-economic indicators, women with disabilities fare far worse than other women and men with disabilities. They have lower personal income and are less likely to complete year 12, live in private rental or be in paid employment.[1] Their rates of participation in the labour market – the primary determinant of life chances[2] – have deteriorated in the past 10 years.

Each panelist provided a brief statement outlining their respective party's position on issues which affect the lives of women with disabilities. They were then asked to respond to the following questions based on the Election Statement and formulated with input from members:

Violence against women

1. How will your party address the actions identified in the Women with Disabilities Victoria election statement to address the high rates of violence against women with disabilities?

Health policy

2. How will your party address the Women with Disabilities Victoria Election statement actions to make sure that women with disabilities have access to health care and health promotion?

Social inclusion

3. Will your party maintain the state disability plan and how will you monitor the socio-economic circumstances of women with disabilities to evaluate the impact of the State Disability plan?

Disability Advocacy in Victoria

4.  With the introduction of the NDIS is your party committed to continue to support the Victorian Disability Advocacy Program?  How will you ensure the advocacy program is sustained?


The responses provided make it clear that all political parties recognise that women with disabilities have the same rights as other women, and should be supported to take their place as equal citizens. The clear takeaway messages for me were:

1.     Violence against women with disabilities is recognised as a key issue which needs to be addressed.  All acknowledged the work which has been done, but also acknowledged that more work Is needed, which requires input, commitment and partnership with the mainstream sector.

2.     Access to health services and health promotion requires ongoing commitment and must also require access to cancer screening, data collection and analysis, and better advocacy.

3.     The maintenance and evaluation of the state disability plan is seen by everyone as essential and needs a whole of Government approach to provide equitable access to services that other women take for granted.  However, it was acknowledged that we must be vigilant and work together to ensure that the plan is effective.

4.     Giving a voice to those who have no voice through effective advocacy needs to be appropriately funded. The NDIS is only one part of the answer, and advocacy is one of the other key components alongside access to mainstream services.

 The following facts underpin the development of the WDV election statement:

•   More than 500,000 Victorian women (nearly 1 in 5 of the female population) have a disability, with higher rates in rural and regional Victoria, among cultural communities, and among Indigenous Victorians.

•   Women with disabilities are more likely to be poorer than men with disabilities, and less likely to be in work.

•   Women with disabilities experience higher rates of violence, for longer periods of time. They also encounter significant barriers to receiving services and justice response to their experiences of violence.1[3]

•    Women with disabilities are often not recognised in their role as primary carers.

•   Women with disabilities who are, or want to be, parents face barriers to adequate health care and other services for themselves and their children.

•   Women with disabilities are more exposed to practices which qualify as torture or inhuman or degrading treatment such as medical interventions to control their fertility, forced medication, and chemical restraint.

About the author: Tricia Malowney is a regular contributor to Pro Bono Australia News and a former President of the Victorian Disability Services Board. In November 2013, Malowney was awarded the inaugural Brenda Gabe Leadership Award for her outstanding contribution to women with disabilities in Victoria. She was the inaugural Chair of the Royal Women’s Hospital Disability Reference Group and was able to influence policy and planning on key issues including the Family Violence Protection Act 2006. She has successfully lobbied for women with disabilities to be included in the United Nations Population Health Research.

[1] Kavanagh et al, ‘Time trends in socio-economic inequalities for women and men with disabilities in Australia: evidence of persisting inequalities’, International Journal for Equity in Health, 2013 12-73

[2] Andersen, E, The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 1990, cited in Kavanagh et al.

[3] Healey, L, Voices Against Violence: Paper 2: Current Issues in Understanding and Responding to Violence Against Women with Disabilities, Women with Disabilities Victoria, Office of the Public Advocate and Domestic Violence Resource Centre, Melbourne, 2013, available at


Lina Caneva  |  Editor  |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years. She was the editor of Pro Bono Australia News from when it was founded in 2000 until 2018.

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