'What a list of women we celebrate says to women like me' Featured

Everyone needs a girl gang. In real life, I’m lucky to be surrounded by a group of courageous, intelligent, funny women who can deliver the right dose of honesty, feistiness and care.

But I also have dream girl gangs. You know, the women you most admire who would give you the advice and solutions you need to take over the world. Women like Michelle Obama… Ok, at the moment, I could just stop at Michelle Obama – with her in your corner would you need anyone else in your life?

But in all seriousness, I love it when a great group of women succeed - and are celebrated - together.

Which is why I was so excited when the Daily Life's 2016 Women of the Year finalist list appeared on my news feed last night. As I began to scroll I was thrilled to see so many champion women: the fierce, intelligent and witty Anne Aly; the kind-hearted and honest Noni Hazlehurst and the laugh-until you cry writer Constance Hall.

I will never forget watching Linda Burney address a small dinner crowd of mostly young Indigenous kids when I was just 19. The way she spoke to those young men and women about staying true to their values and the need to keep pushing on despite the setbacks before them gave me goose bumps.

There’s no doubt that the ten women featured are truly remarkable. But as I scrolled to the end of the list, I couldn’t help but feel let down. I felt, once again, that women like me hadn’t made the cut, and when I say women like me, I mean women with disabilities.

Now let me be clear - my disappointment isn’t directed at Daily Life or the ten women who made the shortlist. My disappointment lies in the fact that this list, for the most part, accurately showcases the women whom we have paid attention to in 2016. The list says something about who we celebrate and value - and who we don’t. Which is why the lack of representation of women with disabilities is so jarring.

There can only be two reasons for the lack of representation of women with disabilities. Firstly, that there are no women with disabilities who are achieving at a high enough level to be worthy of a top ten spot. Let me call crap on that argument; to begin with, 2016 was a Paralympic year, so even if we were only to look at athletes, there was a smorgasbord of choices.

Did you know Paralympic sailor Liesl Tech won a gold medal in sailing for Australia in Rio, following her gold medal win for the same event in London? Oh, and London followed five previous Paralympics (Barcelona 1992, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008) where Liesl competed in an entirely different sport - Wheelchair Basketball, winning three medals for Australia. On top of all that, in 2010, she co-founded Sports Matters, a charity that promotes sport for people with disabilities in developing countries. Plus, anyone who has met Liesl knows she’s the life of any party with her infectious laugh and positive attitude.

So the problem isn’t that these women don’t exist - the problem is, you don’t know about them. To be frank - I don’t even know about that many of them - and I’m disabled. If you take out athletes and the Paralympics, I could count the number of disabled women achieving high-profile success in their chosen field on one hand. How can that be? How can I be so ignorant?

I think it comes down to the fact we don’t talk about them, we don’t see them, so we don’t know about them. I don’t know about you, but I feel like when it comes to disability awareness and a platform for our stories (again, particularly for women), we are going backwards.

Some of that (but clearly not all) is connected to the death of Stella Young. A high-profile writer with disabilities who had an uncanny ability to say exactly what I was thinking or how I was feeling - but in a way that made everyone laugh. Her humour made the uncomfortable issues she was raising relatable and easy to digest for disabled and non-disabled alike. She started conversations that broke down barriers. But how did we even get to the stage where we were largely relying on one (remarkable) woman to advocate and shine a light on our issues in the media?

And if there are others, why don’t I know about them? We’ve lost our platform and I for one want it back. So how do we build a louder - more diverse - collective voice that cannot be ignored? There are probably many great ideas out there. We just need to share them and back each other up. Promote each other and not wait for others to notice us. We need our own girl gang.

Elly Desmarchelier

Elly has more than five years experience working in communications and media both in government and non-government organisations. She is currently the Communications and Digital Campaigns Manager at The Parenthood. Just to make life more interesting, Elly has Cerebral Palsy and suffers from severe seizures. When she’s not hooked to 24 hour news channels, you’ll find Elly with her two Labradors - Percy and Spencer.

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