WEI Board of Directors

Stephanie Ortoleva, President & Legal Director | Vice President (vacancy)

Carissa Janis, Treasurer | Catherine Hyde Townsend, Secretary

Jolly Acen | Francis (Frank) E. Della Penna | Sofia Galván Puente

Niluka Gunawardena | Professor Asha Hans | Jaime Todd-Gher


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A black and white photo of Stephanie Ortoleva at the United Nations
during a treaty negotiations session. Photo by Tom Olin.

Stephanie Ortoleva, President & Legal Director

Stephanie Ortoleva is the Founding President and Legal Director of Women Enabled International (WEI), a non-profit organization which works at the intersection of women’s rights and disability rights and educates and advocates internationally for the human rights of women and girls with disabilities, through collaborations with organizations of disabled women worldwide.  WEI works at the United Nations and other multilateral organizations to ensure the inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in national, regional and international human rights law, policy  and development programing. 

WEI is recognized as innovative and ground breaking and serves as a prime resource for disabled women’s rights advocates globally.  Under Stephanie’s leadership WEI has expanded and now has a staff of nine and a growing budget.  At WEI, she manages the organization, supervises the staff of nine, engages in fund raising, and leads the conceptualization, design and implementation of its work and special projects, including WEI’s innovative accountABILITY Toolkitamong other projects.  As a woman with a disability herself she brings the development, academic and legal perspectives to her work as well as her personal experience as a woman with a disability.  

Prior to founding WEI, Stephanie served as an attorney and human rights officer at the U.S. Department of State, where she was awarded the prestigious Franklin Award in 2009 for her outstanding work on human rights matters. Recently, Women’s E-News recognized Stephanie as a leader for women’s rights for the 21st Century in 2016 and Hofstra University School of Law recognized her as an Outstanding Women in Law awardee for 2017.  Stephanie has authored numerous scholarly publications and policy papers regarding women's rights, disability rights, sexual and reproductive rights, access to justice, violence against women, conflict and post-conflict situations, electoral and political reform, and rule of law. Her papers can be found on the Social Science Research Network at http://ssrn.com/author=1875099 and on WomenEnabled.org.

She is the former founding Co-Chair of the American Society of International Law's International Disability Rights Interest Group, serves on the American Bar Association's Commission on Disability Rights and serves on the Board of Directors of several women's rights and disability rights organizations.  She graduated from Hofstra University School of Law with outstanding honors, served on the Hofstra Law Review and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court and in the State of New York.

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Vice President (vacant)


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portrait of Carissa Janis, secretary

Carissa Janis, Treasurer

Carissa Janis has spent her career working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a Grants Program Manager and Policy Advisor. She is a national leader in the field of housing and supportive services for low-income elderly persons and people with disabilities. She is currently engaged in implementing "Opening Doors", the nation's first comprehensive Federal strategy to prevent and end homelessness by 2020. Carissa brings an in-depth knowledge of the entire grant making life cycle, from writing proposals and awarding funds to evaluating impact and closing out grants. Her involvement with disability rights includes working as an accessibility consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, a board member of the W.R. Torres Foundation for the Blind, founding business manager and board member of Open Circle Theatre, a professional theatre company showcasing actors and artists with disabilities, founder and Chair of Advocates for HUD Employees with Disabilities, and member of the metropolitan Washington DC's Visually Impaired Empowered Women's networking group. Carissa has a B.A. in sociology from Barnard College and a masters in Public Administration from Columbia University. She has been a strong supporter and advocate for women's rights since her time at Barnard College.

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Photo of Catherine Hyde Townsend

Catherine Hyde Townsend, Secretary

Currently an independent consultant, Catherine Hyde Townsend is frequently sought out as a technical advisor on disability inclusion to U.N. agencies, bilateral and private donors and NGOs working in the disability rights field. She co-chairs the Board of Directors for the Disability Rights Fund and the Disability Rights Advocacy Fund and serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Women Enabled International. From 2006 until 2017, Catherine worked at Wellspring Advisors where she launched one of the first grantmaking portfolios focused on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Beginning in 2012, she also developed and managed a new grantmaking portfolio focused on the security and protection of human rights defenders. She has led private donor advocacy and learning around disability inclusion, speaking with diverse donor audiences and authoring key pieces on disability inclusion in philanthropy. In 2007, Catherine played a lead role in launching the Disability Rights Fund. To advance the networking and learning of human rights donors, she coordinated programming for the International Human Rights Funders Group from 2004-2008. Best known for her collaborative leadership, Catherine brings a wealth of expertise informed by a participatory approach to leadership. Prior to joining Wellspring, Catherine worked at the Mertz Gilmore Foundation and LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust. Between 1995 and 1999, Catherine worked at JP Morgan in several offices around the world. Catherine holds an M.A. from Yale University focusing on international human rights and law and a B.A. from Hamilton College.

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Photo of Jolly Acen

Jolly Acen, Board Member

Jolly Acen is currently the Executive Secretary of the National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda.  She holds a Masters Degree in Public Health Leadership, majoring in maternal and child health with a background in Social Work and Management.  She brings to the Board 12 years of experience in program management and advocacy, especially in the areas of gender and women's empowerment and disability inclusion. To her work, she brings a clear understanding of the intersectionality of gender and disability globally, which has exposed her to a wide range of issues of women and girls with disabilities. Her skills and expertise in gender and disability in Africa and the post conflict region has enabled her to advocate for inclusion of women and girls with disabilities in the development agenda from the local to the international level. She brings a wealth of experience and knowledge from the African context on how best to engage different actors using the United Nations treaties in understanding and mainstreaming gender and disability in their work. Her passion is to promote the rights of women and girls with disabilities and advocate for their inclusion in all aspects of society.

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photo of frank della penna, treasurer

Francis (Frank) E. Della Penna

Mr. Della-Penna has traveled extensively in Europe, South America, the Middle East and North Africa and Asia. In his research and advocacy he focuses on issues raised by the presence of the U.S. military on Okinawa, the resulting violence against native Okinawan women, and the devastating effects of U.S. military bases on the unique forest and aquatic environment, culture and economy of the island and its indigenous people. He is also very interested in cultural heritage rights issues. He previously had a distinguished career with both the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Where he investigated, litigated and resolved numerous complaints of gender and disability-based discrimination, many of which were precedent setting. To his position as Treasurer for Women Enabled International, he brings extensive experience with financial management and record keeping and a commitment to the rights of women and persons with disabilities.

Additionally, Frank is an accomplished Hawaiian Steel guitarist, a recording and performing artist, and has an extensive collection of Hawaiian and Asian music. He has performed at numerous venues including the Kennedy Center, the Native American History Museum, National Public Radio among others. Recently, he was elected as President of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association.

Frank attended Marian University in Indianapolis and graduated from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana with a degree in sociology.

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Photo of Sofia Galvan

Sofia Galván Puente, Board Member

Sofía Galván Puente serves as the Human Rights Specialist of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). She is the lawyer in charge of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty, which also deals with persons with disabilities in the context of deprivation of liberty. Sofía Galván is a Mexican lawyer who earned her law degree from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), and pursued an LL.M., magna cum laude, in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame – Law School.

For four years, Sofía Galván was the Director of Disability Rights International for Mexico & Central America. She has worked on issues regarding disability rights, persons deprived of liberty and international human rights law in various settings such as multilateral organizations, human rights commissions, universities, legal offices and NGOs. In addition, she has been a professor at UNAM, has written legal publications national and internationally, and has given lectures in the Americas and Europe. In 2018, Sofia Galván was elected by the National Commission on Human Rights (Mexico), as one of the five experts of the Consultation Technical Committee to Monitor the Implementation by Mexico of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

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Photo of Niluka Gunawardena

Niluka Gunawardena, Board Member

Niluka Gunawardena is a Sri Lankan woman with psychosocial and physical disabilities and a member of the LGBTIQ community. Niluka’s understanding of disability is informed by her experience of multiple marginalities. 

Niluka earned a Master of Arts degree in Disability and Gender (with Distinction from the University of Leeds, and she teaches Disability Studies at the University of Kelaniya.  She has been on the teaching team of the Disability Sexuality Rights Online Institute, served on the Disability track organization team of Reconference 2019, and represented her country and constituencies at the CRPD Conference of State Parties in 2019. Niluka regularly conducts community training workshops on Disability Rights using the CRPD human rights framework for a multitude of NGOs and DPOs.  She also influences disability inclusive corporate policy by leading disability rights awareness sessions for corporations in Sri Lanka.

Niluka is a co-founder of The Spectrum, a peer support group for individuals with psychosocial disabilities in Sri Lanka, and she is in the process of convening a disability youth group under the auspices of the MJF Foundation in Sri Lanka.

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Photo of Professor Asha Hans

Professor Asha Hans, Board Member

Professor Hans is the Founder of the Women with Disabilities India Network, through which she prepared the disability part of the Alternative Report to the Committee on the Convention on the elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and also led the effort to provide UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, with documentation of violence against women and girls with disabilities during her country visit to India in April 2013. She has also been involved in efforts for the inclusion of women in the India Disability rights Draft legislation. She is the co-founder of Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre in India and is a former Professor of Political Science and Director of Women's Studies at Utkal University in India. She also has extensive experience in the inclusion of women in peace and security strategies and is leading the People's Action Plan pursuant to UHNSCR 1325.

Professor Hans has authored and edited numerous articles and books, including: India's first book on women and disability, Gender Disability and Identity (Sage Publications, 2003); with Betty Reardon, The Gender Imperative: Human Security Vs State Security, Routledge, 2010; and Disability and Feminist Experiences, Sage Publications, 2014.

Asha serves as the Chair of Women Enabled International’s Strategic Planning Committee.

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Photo of Jaime Todd-Gher

Jaime Todd-Gher, Board Member

Jaime Todd-Gher is a human rights lawyer specializing in issues of gender, sexuality and health. She has worked with international, national and grass-roots organizations and in the private legal sector. She most recently worked as a Legal Advisor and Strategic Litigation Specialist with Amnesty International, where she led a project focusing on the human rights implications of criminalization of sexuality and reproduction.

Jaime has also worked as a Human Rights Advisor and Programme Officer with the WHO and UNAIDS, and a Global Advocacy Fellow with the Center for Reproductive Rights. She engages in human rights litigation and advocacy before United Nations and regional human rights bodies and supports national-level advocacy strategies with partner organizations worldwide.

Jaime holds an LL.M. in international law and gender from American University, Washington College of Law, a J.D. from the University of San Francisco, School of Law, and a B.A. in sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. 

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