From 9th to 10th April, 2005 about 100 women with different disabilities from 16 European countries met in Paestum, south of Naples, Italy. They had been invited by Disabled Peoples International (DPI) Italia which wished to present the results of its Europa project, and to further the exchange of views and link-up within Europe around the area of assistance.
Nine disabled women from Germany were able to participate in the conference. Apart from several representatives from the Weibernetz-Project, women from the Networks of Disabled Women of Bavaria, Lower Saxony, and the network of Dresden went to Italy, as well as one colleague from an ambulant service station. This was partly possible through financing from the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth.
A three year long European project - involving Italy, Germany and France -confirmed that personal assistance is the key for independence, equal participation in social life, and for quality of life. Nonetheless it is of prime importance that the relationship between the woman receiving assistance and the person providing that assistance be formed positively, as it could otherwise easily lead to violently situations. The project developed strategies to defuse violence in this special relationship. Firstly, educational seminars through which disabled women learn the basics of managing assistance were considered essential. Here they receive training to express their needs clearly for themselves, and to their assistants. In addition, both parties have to behave with respect towards each other. Furthermore, assistants said that they would welcome the introduction of training with officially recognized exams.
Martina Puschke from Weibernetz explained the German model of work assistance on the basis of the SGB IX (Social Code Book Nine) which is financed through a penalty which firms must pay if they fail to employ as many disabled people as they should according to the law. Citing examples of successful usage of work assistance by women with different disabilities, she described the positive and negative aspects of this special kind of support. Without assistance in the work place, many disabled people would not be able to work. Since the introduction of the SGB IX in 2001, the numbers of people taking advantage of work assistance tripled by 2003. This means, in concrete numbers, that in 2003 620 people were employed with such assistance.
It must be noted that conspicuously fewer women than men make use of such work assistance. The first results of the research assignment "Work Assistance for Participation" in the Rhineland show that of 445 disabled people who work with work assistance, only 165 are female. One reason for this might be that often, fewer women are employed at all.
One of the biggest drawbacks with the existing work assistance scheme is the lack of support for people with learning difficulties at their work place. In this sector, the necessary support is not adequately implemented. What is also missing is an equal financing of assistance for parents with child-rearing duties.
The interest of other countries in work assistance is great. Many questions about it came up at this meeting. For example, Bulgaria currently has concrete plans to copy and implement the German model.
Generally, a lively exchange took place in the working groups and in between the official sections. For some participants, it has not at all been clear, that with this model of personal assistance, with differing organized assistance services and the work assistance, different choices of employing assistance are given for living independently without family dependence. Provided, of course, that assistance is financed.
In the final resolution, a demand was formulated for the introduction of a law for all European states that grants the financing of personal assistance according to the Swedish model.
22nd April, 2005
Photos: Brigitte Faber, Weibernetz e.V.
A brochure detailing the results of the European project, "Disabled Women and Personal Assistance. Personal Assistance as an instrument to guarantee equal opportunities and a life of quality", is available in English and Italian, can be ordered from: DPI Italia, Tel.: +39 (0)968 463 - 499, Fax: - 568, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org