It’s International Women’s Day on the 8th March and this year, the theme is #BreakTheBias. Women’s rights and awareness of women’s struggles have come a long way since the suffragette era, but there is still loads of progress to be made to make this a fair and equal world.
And the same can be said about the rights and struggles of people with disabilities, who also suffer from discrimination, have to ward off stereotypes and fight to be included in greater society and get equality in their communities, workplaces and schools.
So, for this International Women’s Day, we want to focus on breaking the bias for all women, but especially for women living with a disability. We’re going to do this by shining a light on some incredible Australian women who are thriving alongside their disability and not letting it define them. These women are breaking boundaries in their communities and giving other women and girls like them permission to shine and believe in themselves.
5 Australian women who are #BreakingTheBias
Louis Sauvage – athlete
Louise Sauvage OAM is probably the most famous name in wheelchair racing in Australia. This Paralympian legend from Perth has won nine gold medals and four silver medals across four Paralympic Games, plus numerous other medals over the years at IPC World Championships and other events.
Louise was born with a congenital spinal condition called myelomeningocele, which is a type of spina bifida. Louis started out with swimming at the encouragement of her parents and turned to wheelchair racing at the age of 15. Little did she know that by 2000, she would be carrying the Paralympic torch at the Sydney Paralympic Games and would go on to coach future Paralympic athletes in preparation for their moments to shine.
Louise was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1993 and the Australian Sports Medal in 2000. She is showing the world that her disability does not limit her ability to achieve and inspire. She is breaking the bias about being confined to a wheelchair as opposed to using it to thrive.
Hannah Gadsby – comedian
If you’ve got Netflix, you may have heard of the stand-up comedian Hannah Gadsby and her two shows, Nanette and Douglas. Hannah is an internationally acclaimed comedian, writer and actress from Tasmania.
Hannah got her first break when she won the final of Australia’s Raw Comedy competition in 2006. It was Nanette, however, that skyrocketed her to stardom and earned her a Primetime Emmy Award. Hannah has ADHD and in 2017, was diagnosed with autism. She then decided to let the world get an insight into her brain on the spectrum with her show Douglas.
Hannah has won numerous awards and is currently going on tour with her new show, Body of Work. Hanna’s sharp, witty and intelligent comedy is breaking the bias society has about the intellectual capabilities of neurodiverse people.
Ana Marie Belo – actress and writer
Ana Marie Belo is an Australian actress and writer who started out in musicals after graduating from NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Art). She has since appeared in various theatre productions, TV series and feature films as well as written, produced and directed her own works. Ana Maria began losing her hearing at age 7 and completely lost hearing in her right ear by age 14. She then began losing hearing in her left ear too.
This didn’t hold her back initially, as no one auditions she went to could tell she had a hearing disability. Once they started asking about disabilities on audition forms, however, she noticed a marked change in the way she was treated and in the lack of callbacks she got.
Ana Maria is now the ambassador for the Shepherd Centre – a not-for-profit that’s working hard to give children with hearing impairment the same opportunities as everyone else. She is working to break the bias that a person is their disability. She notes, “As soon as people understand that someone has hearing loss, they think that is all there is to them. But hearing loss is just a tiny part of who that person is.”
Carly Findlay – activist
Carly Findlay OAM is a speaker, writer, influencer and what she calls an ‘appearance activist’. Carly has a rare skin condition called Ichthyosis, which causes the skin to appear red and waxy. She has experienced discrimination because of this but didn’t take it lying down.
Carly, who holds a Master of Communication, is working hard to increase the representation of people with a disability in the media. She has made numerous appearances on ABC TV and radio, regularly speaks at events, writes about disability and appearance for CNN, ABC, The Age and Sydney Morning Herald and SBS, and in 2019, published her memoir Say Hello.
She also launched the first disability-inclusive event at Melbourne Fashion Week, ‘Access to Fashion – Disability on the Runway: an Exploration of Disability Inclusion in the Fashion Industry’.
Carly loves fashion and wants to break the bias of judging people by appearance, as well as the bias that a disability is a burden.
Madeline Stuart – model
Madeline Stuart is one of the first people with Down syndrome to become an international model. She is inspiring other girls as well as representing the Down syndrome community on catwalks and in photoshoots all over the world.
It all started when Madeline told her mum she wanted to be a model and started training to lose weight and get in shape. Her mum posted her before and after pictures and they went viral internationally.
In 2015, Madeline modelled at the New York Fashion Week (NYFW), making her the second person with Down syndrome ever to grace that hailed catwalk. She now has her own fashion line and has called it 21 Reasons Why, named after the extra (21st) chromosome that people with Downs syndrome have.
Madeline is breaking the bias about how beauty is represented in the fashion world and is showing what people with disabilities can do.
These women are breaking boundaries and helping to get rid of bias by living their truths and going for what they want.
On the International Women’s Day website, the organisers have written:
‘Imagine a gender equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women’s equality.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.’
‘Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day.
We can break the bias in our communities.
We can break the bias in our workplaces.
We can break the bias in our schools, colleges and universities.
Together, we can all break the bias – on International Women’s Day (IWD) and beyond.’
If you want to support the movement to break the bias, IWD.com is asking that you share a photo of you striking the IWD 2022 pose (form a cross with your arms) with the hashtag #BreakTheBias on social media, and maybe at the same time, you can tag women you know whom you think are bashing down biases, defying stereotypes and beating their own drum.