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Women with Disabilities Empathy: an international perspective on disability rights

14 September 2022

CEO Jonathan met with South Korean disability activists and researchers to share the UK situation.

Women with Disabilities Empathy (WDE) was established in 1998 to advocate for the human rights of women with disabilities in South Korea. Their goal: to create a society that sees disabled women as equals but also respects their choices and decisions, working alongside other minoritized groups to bring about social change.

Like VoiceAbility, they work directly with individuals to help them gain access to personal support, undertake research and work to influence policy. But they also run a school, a theatre group, a counselling centre for women experiencing domestic violence and abuse, and an Independent Living Centre (SOOM) offering peer support and training. They are activists, challenging ableist normative structures through protest and action.

Leader Eun-Sun Jin and her colleagues from WDE invited VoiceAbility CEO Jonathan Senker to meet as part of their European research tour.

Jonathan reflects:

It takes 12 hours to fly from Seoul to London. Yet from the first minutes of our meeting when the delegation from Women with Disabilities Empathy gave their powerful presentation to their leaving gift of a poem written by women with learning disabilities about the right to intimacy, their struggles felt uncannily close to ours. Moments of mutual recognition spread throughout our discussion, from the need to close the gap between positive policy rhetoric and people lives, to the challenge of bringing health and care professionals on board, to addressing the underinvestment in public services. 

Keen to learn about how advocacy can raise people’s voices, enforce people’s rights and hasten the pace of de-institutionalisation, the delegation’s questions were searching and well-informed. Given that they had travelled so far to pursue their enquiries, we were happy to agree that the session would take the form of an extended interview to provide them with the insights that they were seeking. Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that we may have got as much from it as did the delegation.

I came away not only with a sense of solidarity with an impressive group of leaders from Korea, but also with a renewed sense of the importance of taking an international perspective to help us to figure out new ways to unlock people’s voices in the future.”