November 15, 2023

By Karen Mulhauser, UNA-NCA Past Board Chair; and Kate Lovas, UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee Co-Chair

We at UNA-NCA had the honor to sit down with the 2023 Perdita Huston Human Rights Award Honoree, Stephanie Ortoleva, International Human Rights Lawyer and Activist.

Stephanie Ortoleva is a well-recognized international human rights lawyer, leader, author and researcher on issues of disability rights, women’s rights and the rights of women and girls with disabilities. She has received numerous awards for her work including the Department of State’s Franklin Award in 2009 in recognition of her outstanding achievements, 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. She started Women Enabled International (WEI), in 2012. WEI was the first and still only international organization dedicated to advancing human rights at the intersection of gender and disability.

The 2023 UNA-NCA Perdita Huston Award is just the most recent recognition of her outstanding life and achievements.

Stephanie was inspired to become a human rights activist because she was personally aware of discrimination against women and individuals with disabilities. With experience in civil rights and her personal experience of being discriminated against, Stephanie was inspired to enter law school and graduated from Hofstra University School of Law. With the law degree, she then became a human rights officer at the U.S. Department of State, where she served on U.S. Government Delegations at international multilateral venues regarding disability rights and women’s rights and she received several honors for her work.

Human rights work of the United Nations became important to Stephanie both personally and professionally because discrimination issues are global, not just in her community or her country. She saw this personally with her work at the Department of State and realized that much more needs to be done to help countries recognize the need to support women and girls with disabilities.

Support and encouragement from her parents were major factors in Stephanie’s commitment to continue finding ways to expand awareness and services for women and girls with disabilities. Support from professors in college and law school also inspired her to advocate for human rights and start Women Enabled International to explore ways to build support internationally for basic human rights for women and girls with disabilities.

Stephanie has long supported efforts to engage young professionals and to help them understand different experiences in different countries. The department of State and UN recognize these differences and valued Stephanie’s education and advocacy efforts.

The efforts that have driven Stephanie’s activities and commitments are reflected in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Stephanie Ortoleva is grateful for the opportunities she has experienced and proud of founding Women Enabled International and its work since 2012. She is also proud of her work with younger women when engaged in doing US based education and advocacy.

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