To mark International Women’s Day (March 8), Autism-Europe (AE) looks back over the course of the last year and feature some examples of autistic women and girls who are raising their voices to ensure full participation on an equal basis with others. Their lives and commitment are just some examples of how empowered women are breaking barriers to access education, health care, information and services, justice as well as civic and political participation.
At the AE’s International Congress in 2016, we talked about the ‘empowerment’ of individuals on the autism spectrum, as well as the ways to equip professionals in order to support them better. Over the past years, AE has also been working on the specific empowerment of autistic women and girls in the EU by actively combating violence, abuse and forced sterilisation for all women and girls with disabilities, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Across the world, the United Nations is also making efforts to empowerment of women and girls with disabilities “towards full and effective participation and gender equality”. In December 2018, a Strategic Plan 2018–2021 was launched to ensure a more systematic approach to strengthen the inclusion of the rights of women and girls with disabilities. The strategy further builds upon UN Women’s work in the area of empowerment of women and girls with disabilities.
Greta Thunberg: demonstrating to stop climate change
She describes herself as ‘16-year-old climate activist with Asperger’ on Twitter and goes on ‘school strike’ every Friday outside the parliament in Stockholm until climate change is made a priority by Swedish politicians. She has participated in the TEDX event in Stockholm in November 2018, going on to address World Leaders at the UN COP24 in Katowice, Poland in December 2018, and, recently, at the World Economic Forum in Davos and in the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels in 2019.
Greta was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Selective Mutism when she was 11 years old. Her idea of striking from school is something she did on an individual basis, not within a group as she admits she is not good at socializing. Greta sees her autism as ‘a gift’, not a disability, and attributes her direct and straight talking manner to her condition.
Abby Brooke: walking across Africa to raise awareness
To date, Abby has completed a 400Km, one-month long walk around Mt Kenya, speaking at 5 public community events on the challenges and opportunities autism presents, reaching over 500 parents, professionals, teachers and carers. Her next project is a 2000Km, four-month long walk across Kenya, where the level of understanding and support for autism is very minimal, and during which she will seek to change this through her actions and talks. Abby, born in Nairobi, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at the age of 13 while living in England for her school education.
Zoe Carpenter: advocating to combat disability discrimination and abuse
Zoe is a young autistic woman from the UK who is a survivor of child sexual exploitation. A talented advocate focusing on the vulnerability of autistic girls and children in relation to sexual exploitation, she is one of the pioneers of the REIGN project. This initiative promulgates the idea that “the voice of experience is the most powerful tool for combating disability discrimination and abuse”.
Zoe started her work in the autistic community administrating online support groups and facilitating off-line meet-ups, both in women-only and mixed-gendered settings, including hosting autistic pride events in her city. She adds that connecting people together remains one of her favorite things to do within the autistic community.
Stéf Bonnot-Briey: combining professionalism and activism
Stef is a Council of Administration member of Autism-Europe as a self-advocate. She works as trainer and helps improve quality of autism services in France.
Stéf was the co-founder of the SAtedI association, the first French-speaking association created in 2003 by autistic people for autistic people, to enable them to meet and help each other. Her commitment to the cause of autistic women led her to be actively involved in the French Association for Autistic Women (AFFA in French) since 2016, of which she has been Vice-president for 2 years. From her experience, she is aware that female autism is a reality of expression and issues that are not taken into account in France.
In February 2019, Stéf was awarded with the Medal of the Order of Merit of given by the Secretary of State for persons with disabilities, Sophie Cluzel.
Stéf is a keynote speaker on the next AE’s International Congress 2019 and makes part of the scientific committee.
Monique Post: voicing the needs of autistic women in Europe
At the European level, the voice of autistic women is raised by Monique Post, a young wowan member of the Dutch Autism Association (NVA) and Council of Administration member of Autism-Europe. She provides consultancy on social related topics of autism care such as education, family support and short term peer to peer work. Her work is based on her belief in looking at what someone can do, rather than what they cannot do.
In September 2017, she was elected as member of the Women’s Committee of the European Disability Forum (EDF) for 4 years. This Committee is providing expertise on gender equality and the rights of women and girls with various disabilities. It also serves as a network for exchanges of information, capacity building and learning, and to support the members amongst each other in order to strengthen EDF and its members work on promoting the rights of women with disabilities. It also ensures that EDF’s work towards the EU and the UN level takes into account the perspective of women and girls with disabilities.