WEI Board of Directors

Stephanie Ortoleva, President & Legal Director | Jolly Acen, Vice President

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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Jolly Acen, a smiling young woman with dark brown braided hair and dark eyes.

Jolly Acen, Vice President

Jolly Acen is a Programme Specialist and Head of Sub Office with UN Women Uganda, before joining UN Women, she served as Executive Secretary of National Union of Women with Disabilities of Uganda (NUWODU); served as  Senior Community Development officer in charge Gender and Disability with Lira District Local Government; served as Gender Advisor with Trocaire; and served as a field coordinator with Abeita Samaratia Bund(ASB). She provided strategic leadership on policy matters and development; partnership development; resource mobilization; program management and conducted several advocacies on women and girls issues in Africa with a focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized women and girls with disabilities and refugees and  their  inclusion in national and international legal and policy frameworks.

For the past 13 years, Jolly has worked extensively on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in Uganda and across East Africa, she has served at different portfolios in several organizations.  She has experience working with Government and Non-Governmental Organizations. She was a member of the Expert Group that developed a strategy for inclusion of women with Disabilities in SDG implementation, a visiting lecturer at Makerere University School of Law on Intersectionality of Gender and Disability Rights, an alumna of Save the Mothers program of Uganda Christian University. 

Jolly holds a master’s degree in Public Health Leadership of Uganda Christian University, a bachelor’s degree in Development Studies of Makerere University, and a Post Graduate Diploma in Public Administration and Management of Uganda Management Institute Kampala. Jolly is passionate about promoting the rights of women and girls with a focus on the most vulnerable and marginalized. She believes that every woman and girl have the power to enjoy their fundamental rights if they are  informed and empowered.

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Carissa Janis, a mature smiling woman with closed eyes and shoulder-length gray brown hair.

Carissa Janis, Treasurer

Carissa Janis has spent her 30-year 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. 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 serving as President of National Capital Citizens with Low Vision, 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. In May 2020, Carissa received a Master of Arts degree in Conflict Resolution from Dominican University in Illinois and looks forward to working more actively as a mediator and group facilitator.  She has a Master’s degree in Public Administration from Columbia University and a B.A. in sociology from Barnard College.  She has been a strong supporter and advocate for women's rights since her time at Barnard College.

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Catherine Hyde Townsend, a young smiling woman with straight brown shoulder-length hair, light brown eyes and glasses.

Catherine Hyde Townsend, Secretary

Currently an independent consultant, Catherine Hyde Townsend serves as a disability inclusion advisor to the Ford Foundation, UN agencies, NGOs and other philanthropic organizations. Catherine’s work is grounded in an intersectional approach, understanding that disability inclusion is an integral part of human rights and social justice and cannot be successfully tackled without also addressing gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity and poverty amongst others. She is a thought leader on disability inclusion in philanthropy, speaking with diverse donor audiences and authoring key resources for the field.

From June of 2019 until March of 2020, Catherine served as the Transition Director of the Human Rights Funder Network, guiding it through critical institutional and leadership changes. For more than ten years, she worked at Wellspring Advisors where she launched one of the first grantmaking portfolios focused on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In 2007, Catherine played a lead role in launching the Disability Rights Fund. 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. She also coordinated programming for the International Human RIghts Funders Group from 2004-2008. 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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frank della penna, a mature man with gray hair wearing a suit and tie.

Francis (Frank) E. Della Penna

Mr. Della-Penna serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Women Enabled International.  He 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.  As a member of the Okinawa chapter of Veterans for Pease, he engages with other members to focus on peace issues internationally.  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, and resolved numerous complaints of gender and disability-based discrimination, many of which were precedent setting.  To his former position as Treasurer and current position on the Board, 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, Asian, classical music and popular music on acoustic Edison cylinders, 45 and 33 1/3  rpm records and CDs. He has performed at numerous venues including the Kennedy Center, the Native American History Museum, National Public Radio among others.  He is President of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association and has been an active member for decades.

Frank attended Marian University in Indianapolis and graduated from Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana with a degree in sociology.  He studied the Okinawa Sanshin at the Teruya School of Music in Koza City, Okinawa

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Sofia Galvan, a young smiling woman with long dark brown spiral curls and dark eyes.

Sofia Galván Puente, Board Member

Sofía Galván Puente serves as the Human Rights Specialist of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Since 2019, she is the coordinator of the section that monitors a wide portfolio that includes different topics (deprivation of liberty, migrants and children’s rights) and the countries of the Caribbean, US and Canada. She also spent four years in charge of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty.
 
Previously, Sofia 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 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), has written legal publications national and internationally, and has given lectures in the Americas and Europe.
 
Sofía earned her law degree from the UNAM, and completed an LL.M., magna cum laude, in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame – Law School. She is also the mother of Emiliano and the partner of Camron.

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Niluka Gunawardena, a young smiling woman with straight dark brown should-length hair and brown eyes.

Niluka Gunawardena, Board Member

Niluka Gunawardena is an educator and researcher based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Niluka’s understanding of disability is informed by her experience of multiple marginalities and intersectionality.

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 taught at Griffith University and the National Institute of Social Development in the past. She is a consultant to the Accelerating Higher Education Expansion and Development project conducted by the University of Colombo which is aimed at creating an accessible and equal learning environment for all students.   She has been on the teaching team of the Disability Sexuality and Rights Online Institute and served on the Disability track organization team for Reconference 2019 hosted by CREA. She has taught Geography and Earth Science to secondary school students for several years and is currently working on introducing Mindfulness to school children and educators in conjunction with the Open University of Sri Lanka and the Ministry of Education.

Niluka regularly conducts community training workshops on Disability Rights using the CRPD-SDGs 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. She represented her country and constituencies at the CRPD Conference of State Parties in 2019.

Niluka is a researcher who has worked on evidence-based policy for organizations like the Human Environment Research Observatory, Equal Ground and BBC. She is a co-founder of The Spectrum, a peer support group for individuals with psychosocial disabilities and Union of Abilities, a peer group for youth with physical disabilities in Sri Lanka.

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Professor Asha Hans, a mature woman with glasses and short dark brown hair wearing a sari.

Professor Asha Hans, Board Member

Professor Hans is ex Founder Director of Women’s Studies and Prof of Political Science at Utkal University in India. She is co-founder of Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre in India a DPO in India and Founder 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 in 2014 and UNCRPD Committee 2019- 2020. The Network She has also been involved in efforts for the inclusion of women in the Rights of Persons with disabilities Act 2016.  She is on the Board of the UN Women’s, Peace and Humanitarian Fund. 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. A prolific writer on issues of disability and on conflict and peace her recent publications include with Betty Reardon The Gender Imperative, (Routeldge 2019, 2010); India: Social Development Report 2016: Disability Rights Perspectives (Oxford University Press 2016) Openings for Peace with Swarna Rajgoplan (2016 Sage Publications), Disability Gender and Trajectories of Power (Sage 2015).

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Jaime Todd-Gher, a smiling woman with long blonde hair and blue eyes.

Jaime Todd-Gher, Board Member

Jaime Todd-Gher is a human rights lawyer specializing in issues of gender, sexuality and health. She is working as an Independent Consultant and a Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Fellow with the University of Toronto, International Reproductive and Sexual Health Law Program, Faculty of Law.

Jaime 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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