DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN Canada) / Réseau d’action des femmes handicapées du Canada (RAFH Canada)


The DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN-RAFH Canada) was a feminist not-for-profit organization whose purpose was to bring attention to the special problems facing women with disabilities. In June 1985, seventeen women from across Canada met to discuss how best to support women with disabilities in their struggles to control their own lives. They brought together women and groups from PEI, Toronto, Halifax, BC, Montreal, and Winnipeg. At this meeting, they planned a larger national meeting of women with disabilities to found the organization and develop its strategies and goals.  The 17 founding mothers were Maria Barile, Susan Buchanan, Pat Danforth,Fran Dinn, Joanne Doucette, Irene Feika, Donna Hicks, Margaret Hiltz, Pat Israel, Paula Keirstead, Diane Leeming, Joan Meister, Cathy Moore, Marie-Blanche Remillard, Jillian Ridington, Marie St.-Germain, and Barbara Smith.

The founding conference was held in Winnipeg in 1987. At this meeting, participants developed their organizing principles:

DAWN believes that disabled women have the right to direct their own lives and that women with disabilities:

  • have the right to access the services and supports available to all women;
  • have needs which are different from those of men with disabilities;
  • know best what their needs are;
  • have a right to freedom of choice in all aspects of their lives;
  • can be proud of their disabilities and have the choice to self-identify.

In the period between 1985-1990, DAWN worked extensively to influence public policy and the inequities in the judicial system. With a grant from the federal government, Jillian Ridington, DAWN’s researcher, travelled across Canada to meet with women with disabilities. She distributed hundreds of questionnaires and conducted extensive interviews. Her research resulted in several papers that highlighted the problems and issues facing women with disabilities:

  • Beating the Odds: Violence against Women with Disabilities
  • Different Therefore Unequal: Employment and Women with Disabilities
  • Only Parent in the Neighbourhood: Mothering and Women with Disabilities
  • Who Do We Think We Are: Self-Image and Women with Disabilities.

These papers formed the basis of DAWN’s extensive education and public policy campaigns in this period. Who Do We Think We Are: Self-Image and Women with Disabilities also became the title of a conference and annual general meeting held in Toronto in 1989.

DAWN has managed to attract funding from a number of sources, including the Secretary of State Women’s Program. Like other women’s organizations, it was defunded by Status of Women Canada in 2006 when the federal government removed “advocacy”, “equity” and “access to justice” from Status of Women Canada’s mandate.

Since then DAWN has continued as an active organization with a bilingual office in Montreal. To read more about the history, activities, milestones, resources, and current issues for women with disabilities, please refer to the DAWN-RAFH (DisAbled Women’s Network- Réseau d’action des femmes handicapées website: http://www.dawncanada.net

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