Disability World
A bimonthly web-zine of international disability news and views, Issue no. 7 March-April 2001

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New Zealand Disability Activist Wins Human Rights Award

By Robyn Hunt (robyn@iecho.co.nz)

New Zealand disability activist Wendi Wicks received an award for her human rights work at a national ceremony held on December 10, 2000. Wendi is a founding member of the Human Rights Network of Aotearoa-New Zealand, launched at the same ceremony.

She received special commendation in the individual category for her work within the disability community, and in Disabled Persons Assembly (DPA), New Zealand's national cross-disability advocacy organization.

The first Human Rights Millennium Awards were presented by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission on International Human Rights Day, December 10. The awards recognize grassroots initiatives and achievement in the area of Human Rights, work which promotes harmony between individuals and groups, and which aims to overcome discrimination.

Wendi has been an activist on disability and human rights issues at grassroots level for over ten years. She has worked on campaigns such as the Accessible Bus Campaign, and the human rights complaint against Victoria University of Wellington. Both of these have had a national impact. She is particularly interested in women's issues and bio-ethical issues.

'What I value most are the alliances with other groups of human rights activists,' Wendi says. The campaign to defend the New Zealand Human Rights Act is a case in point. The government of the day wanted to amend the Act in ways which were unacceptable to the disability community.

'We had gray power, civil liberties groups, gay and lesbian groups, disability and political groups working together. We got to pester politicians - the gays and lesbians had good contacts in Parliament. We talked to all political parties, wrote letters, visited, sent faxes and made phone calls. We had demonstrations, rallies and public meetings.' The campaign was successful and the unacceptable amendments lost.

'We kept supporting ourselves and then going back to our constituencies and providing them with useful summations of Bills and Parliamentary Supplementary Order Papers translated into plain English. There is so much obfuscation. Disabled people do not see so clearly what these mean to them. When it is in clear and straightforward language they know (the issues) well.'

Another campaign, still not finished is an alliance formed around the Intellectual Disability Compulsory Care Bill, still going through Parliament. The alliance includes intellectual disability, civil liberties, and other disability groups.

Wendi explains that in a small population like New Zealand it is important for different groups to work together because there are so few people to do the work. 'The issues are the same so why not cooperate and have strength in numbers. We can share the load and there is bigger mutual support.' She also points out that different groups can learn from each other, share tactics and think outside their own frame of reference.

She sees an important role for advocacy organizations like DPA, working across disability boundaries, believing that disabled people need to be political and not sit back and wait. 'We have to say what it is we want, say it clearly and then ten times more.'

'We need to be aware of the political realities. We all need to be in there. We all have something to contribute, not just on the barricades, but by being active.'

Wendi sees the most important Human Rights issue at present is the proposed UN Convention on disability. She quotes Arthur O'Reilly's address at the RI Word Congress in Rio. 'The time has come.'

"We need 'you shall, you must' legislation or requirements before people take notice,' Wendi says. 'No one wakes up and says "It's a fine sunny day, I think I'll give up some power." There is still a struggle to have recognition that we are fully human and that we have the same human rights as everyone else.'

"With human rights for disabled people we have a basic problem before we start. We have to be recognized as being human, a real problem confronting disabled people. People like Peter Singer want to kill us. He says a newborn pig is more use than a disabled newborn child."

Wendi has a strong sense of social justice. "I have seen and experienced so much discrimination against disabled people. It fires my passion to see that kind of injustice. It keeps going and keeps stirring up my passion. I look forward to a crusty old age when I keep stirring things up and I can have fun doing it. It's fun rattling people's cages." She adds, revealing a subversive sense of humor," Activism should involve fun and food."

She sums up her philosophy on activivism as "If at first you don't succeed try again when they're not looking."

Wendi is active internationally as well as locally. Last year as the sole disability representative at the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions she made a strong disability rights statement, and made sure disabled people were included in the final NGO statement.

She believes that other people working in the Human Rights field, both locally and internationally do not necessarily know about or understand Human Rights issues for disabled people. If people with disability are to achieve full human rights this gap will have to be addressed, she believes.

A former vice-president of DPA, Wendi is now policy analyst for the national disability advocacy organization. Besides working in social policy and research, she has also held equal employment opportunity positions in the New Zealand Public Service.

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