Valuing women’s lived experience –

A five-year relationship with Women With Disability Victoria’s Moira Hub has influenced WHGNE’s broader way of working, and the value we place upon collaborative partnerships that centre the lived expertise of diverse women.

WHGNE first established a partnership with Women with Disabilities Victoria (WDV) in 2016, through the delivery of the Enabling Women Leadership Program in Wangaratta. Developed by WDV, the Enabling Women Leadership Program is a rights-based, leadership and mentoring program for women who identify with having a disability. The six-week, multi-layered program aims to empower women with disabilities to speak up and have a voice about issues that relate to them and other women with disabilities. Supported by a local steering committee and volunteer mentoring program, the WDV Enabling Women Leadership Program is planned, delivered, participated in and supported by women of all abilities, to empower women living with disability in the communities where they live.

Following delivery and evaluation of the Enabling Women Leadership Program, information and key learnings were shared with participants from Moira Shire to support their advocacy for a second Enabling Women Leadership Program, to enable more women living with disability in Goulburn Valley to participate in leadership training with support and mentoring. In 2017 the Moira Enabling Women Leadership Program was the first regional community to receive additional WDV funding to provide supported transport to enable more rural women living with disability to access and participate in leadership training.

In 2018, supported by a nomination by WHGNE, Moira Shire were selected to house one of four newly established regional Victorian ‘Hubs’ for women with disability. Known as the ‘Moira Hub’ and based in Cobram, each of the regional Hubs became part of the Leadership Networks for Women with Disabilities in Victoria to provide a safe setting for rural women with disabilities to support women’s leadership, empowerment and advocacy in their regions. Importantly, WHGNE’s role in the partnership was to enable and support Moira Hub (WDV) through the building of committed and enduring cross sector partnerships that include women living with disability, and to work collaboratively with the Moira Hub to plan actions that strengthen gender equality for women of all abilities in these contexts.

Since the establishment of the Moira Hub, WHGNE has continued to work closely with WDV’s Moira Hub and Cobram Community House to listen to, learn from and amplify the voices and lived expertise of regional women living with disability through inclusive and collaborative partnerships. This has included the Storylines: Her Voice Matters Project, a partnership between WHGNE, Women’s Health Loddon Mallee, Murray Primary Health Network (PHN) and regional women, to gather stories from diverse women about their lived experiences of sexual and reproductive health.

Women at the Moira Hub were consulted in the development of WHGNE’s six sexual and reproductive health information resources suitable for women of all abilities living in northeast Victoria and the Goulburn Valley, specifically, About menopause: A straightforward guide to menopause.

In 2021, WHGNE collaborated with The Wheeler Centre, WDV and the Moira Hub in the planning, delivery and evaluation of the online forum: Women at the Edge: Access and Beyond. Women from the Moira Hub were key partners in planning, delivering and evaluating the online forum, contributing eight stories based on their lived experience of access and inclusion in rural areas and what needs to change for women with disability to have equity of access and inclusion. Three of the stories were developed into time lapsed videos and the lived expertise of women of all abilities shared in the forum. A range of new resources in different formats were created, promoted and shared with Moira Hub to enable women’s continuing leadership and advocacy.

The lived expertise of diverse women is now valued by WHGNE as rich, qualitative evidence to ‘unpack’ broader quantitative data through a gendered and intersectional lens to inform more tailored planning, prevention and response within collaborative partnerships. WHGNE now routinely engages with regional women living with disability via the Moira Hub partnership to inform research, health promotion priorities, planning and initiatives, with inclusive engagement and informed consent tools developed to enable and respect all women’s choices, privacy and safety. The value of diverse women’s knowledge and lived experience is acknowledged by WHGNE, with women’s equity of access and participation enabled with funding to assist transport and catering, and to remunerate women for their time and knowledge contribution to WHGNE led consultation, projects and events.