Stephanie Ortoleva is an accomplished human rights lawyer and prominent feminist leader, scholar and activist, and herself a woman with a disability, who established Women Enabled International (WEI), in 2012 the first and still only international organization dedicated to advancing human rights at the intersection of gender and disability.
Prior to founding WEI in 2012, Stephanie served as an attorney and human rights officer at the U.S. Department of State, where she was honored with the prestigious Franklin Award in 2009 in recognition of her outstanding achievements. Additional awards for her prolific contributions to civil rights and social justice include Hofstra University School of Law ‘Outstanding Women in Law’ awardee in 2017, and Women’s E-News recognition in 2016 as a leader for women’s rights for the 21st Century.
Stephanie is the former founding Co-Chair of the American Society of International Law’s International Disability Rights Interest Group, served on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Disability Rights, is a member of the Board of Directors of Disability Rights International and the U.S. International Council on Disability. She graduated from Hofstra University School of Law with outstanding honors.
Her ground-breaking research and writings framed the core intersectional human rights issues that define WEI’s ongoing work and have influenced scholars and activists around the world to explore gender and disability and related intersections. Those prominent papers addressed issues such as violence against women with disabilities, access to justice, women with disabilities in conflict and humanitarian settings and peacebuilding processes.
The following is the introduction to an interview of Ortoleva by Mekiya Walters for ABILITY Magazine. The interview is well worth reading. See for yourself at https://abilitymagazine.com/stephanie-ortoleva/
With a resume spanning decades, Stephanie Ortoleva, Esq. has founded, headed or sat on the boards of more groups and organizations than one could hope to shake the proverbial stick at. A civil rights attorney and scholar by training, she served in the US Department of State from 2004 to 2009 as a Human Rights Officer and as the Disability Coordinator. During that time, she represented the US government at the negotiations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), worked in partnership with the UN and the Organization of American States, and advanced the participation of women and persons with disabilities in areas including peace-building and post-conflict resolution, economic development, violence prevention, environmental preservation and fighting infectious disease. In 2009, she received the prestigious Franklin Award for her work on human rights and was the State Department’s featured employee for Women’s History Month. And yet, as far as Stephanie was concerned, she was only getting started. Frustrated by the absence of intersectional initiatives for women with disabilities, she founded her own organization. Women Enabled International (WEI), incorporated in 2011, partners with grassroots organizations around the world to provide support and resources to women with disabilities and arm them with international expertise and legal tools. After serving for 10 years as WEI’s executive director and heading up projects around the globe, in 2021 Stephanie decided the time had come to pass the torch to the next generation. ABILITY Magazine’s Mekiya Walters spoke with her about making the world a little bit better for women with disabilities than it was the day before.