Board of Directors

Stephanie Ortoleva, President & Legal Director | Andrea Parra, Vice President

Francis (Frank) E. Della Penna, Treasurer | Carissa Janis, Secretary

Professor Asha Hans, Member | Jagoda Risteska, Board Member

Former WEI Board Members

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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Andrea Parra portrait

Andrea Parra, Vice President

Andrea Parra, of Bogotá, Colombia, is the Director of Global Programs for CREA. Previously, for academic year 2016 to 2017 she worked as a Practitioner In Residence at the Immigrant Justice Clinic in American University, Washington College of Law.  She was the Director of the Action Program for Equality and Social Inclusion (PAIIS), a human rights law clinic at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, which focuses on the advancement of the rights of people discriminated against on the basis of disability, gender or sexuality. She holds a law degree from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá and an LLM in American Law from Boston University. She is a member of the New York Bar and licensed to practice in Colombia.

Andrea worked as a senior attorney at the international non-profit organization Women's Link Worldwide for five years, where she directed the Gender Justice Observatory and worked on projects related to the rights of migrant women and the implementation of international human rights standards.  Andrea also worked as a researcher at the Center for Socio-juridical Studies  (CIJUS) of the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá in projects such as "Congress Watch," "Sex Crimes in Bogotá" and "Human Rights Discourses of the Armed Actors". While in Boston she volunteered at the Domestic Violence Advocacy Project of Northeastern University and Boston Medical Center, where she provided advocacy and support to women arriving at the Emergency room as a result of a domestic violence incident.

Between 2001 and 2006 she worked as a staff attorney and supervisor of the domestic violence unit at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, in Seattle, Washington, where she provided representation and advocacy to immigrants with disabilities, survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking and other violent crimes. She conducted numerous trainings and spoke at local, regional and national conferences on immigrant rights and the rights of immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In Seattle she also sat on the Washington Protection and Advocacy System's Mental Health Advisory Council and was a member of the Seattle Colombia Committee. She is a founding member of the Colombian non-profit organization Sinergias - Alianzas Estratégicas para la Salud y el Desarrollo Social, which focuses on issues related to public health and human rights. She is a member of the Board of Directors of Colombia Diversa, a leading LGBT rights organization in the country.

She worked as a translator for the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and for Training for Change. Andrea translated the book by professors Rebecca Cook and Simone Cusack, Gender Stereotyping: Transnational Legal Perspectives and has translated documents related to social justice for the UN and grassroots organizations in Colombia.

Andrea is a training associate with the organization Training for Change, and has been an experiential trainer for over four years. Andrea has conducted trainings in the U.S., Spain, Mexico, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Guatemala, Peru, Argentina, Morocco, Switzerland, Turkey and various cities in Colombia.

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photo of frank della penna, treasurer

Francis (Frank) E. Della Penna, Treasurer

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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portrait of Carissa Janis, secretary

Carissa Janis, Secretary

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 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 Jagoda Risteska

Jagoda Risteska, Board Member

Jagoda Risteska is Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Mobility Challenge, an Organization which works for empowering women with disabilities in R. Macedonia. Ms. Risteska earned a Bachelor's Degree in Management from the University Sts. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje.  She has first-hand experience with a disability known as Muscular Dystrophy. She is highly motivated and dedicated to social change and empowering the lives of people with disabilities. She participated in the 4th Women's Institute on Leadership and Disability in Eugene, Oregon in 2008, organized by Mobility International USA (MIUSA). After this leadership program, together with other women from her country, she Registered a Non-Profit Organization called Mobility Challenge, in 2009. During 2013, Ms. Risteska spent 4 months in Washington DC as a Community Solutions Fellow by the US State Department, where she enriched her knowledge to work on issues connected with women with disabilities.

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Former Board Members

Carrie Griffin Basas portrait

Carrie Griffin Basas, Member

Carrie Griffin Basas was the Vice President of Women Enabled International through 2015. She is an accomplished law professor. She has taught at the University of North Carolina School of Law, Penn State University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Tulsa College of Law, and Saint Joseph's College of Maine. Her research, teaching, and advocacy focus on disability rights law, criminal law, employment discrimination law, labor law, and professional responsibility. She is interested in the advancement of people with disabilities in the workplace, the role of disability in the courts, and the intersection of disability and health equity issues. She conducted the first qualitative empirical study of the work experiences of women attorneys with disabilities and is currently working on several empirical projects related to health stigma in criminal sentencing and disability diversity issues in unions. Professor Basas is a graduate of Swarthmore and Harvard Law School.

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photo of Maria Veronica Reina

Maria Veronica Reina, Member

Maria Veronica Reina is the Executive Director of the Global Partnership on Disability and Development (GPDD) at the World Bank. Before joining the GPDD, she served as the Director of International Programs at the Burton Blatt Institute. She was the President of the Center for International Rehabilitation (CIR). In this capacity, she oversaw the CIR's programs including Research, E-Learning and the International Disability Rights Monitor Project, a landmark international initiative that documents and assesses the situation of people with disabilities worldwide. She is an educational psychologist, a specialist in learning disabilities, and a renowned international disability rights advocate. Her advocacy work has focused on raising awareness and involvement of the international community on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Ms. Reina has organized Inter-American campaigns on the Convention aimed at the media, governments and other non-governmental organizations. In addition, she has chaired international disability rights meetings and conferences, moderated the International Disability Caucus communications during the negotiations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and managed the Spanish translation and distribution of Disability Convention documents throughout Latin America. Other organizations with which Ms. Reina has worked include the Inter-American Institute on Disability, the Institute for International Disability Advocacy, the Institute for International Cooperation and Development, and University Institute "San Martin", where she was an adjunct professor. A graduate of the Catholic University of Santa Fe in Argentina, Ms. Reina received a specialization in Special Education for School Integration and a Master's degree in Open and Distance Learning and Teaching, at Uned University. Ms. Reina currently resides and works in Argentina.

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Myra Kovary in front of the United nations in New York After Her Presentation at the Conference of States Parties on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on September 14, 2012

Myra Kovary

Myra Kovary is a long-time human rights activist committed to advocating for liberty and justice for all. She currently serves as the Moderator of the listserv for the International Network of Women With Disabilities. She is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Finger Lakes Independence Center in Ithaca, NY and of the Ithaca Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Task Force. As an international disability rights activist, a UN Representative of MindFreedom International, and as a user and survivor of psychiatry, she participated in the negotiations of the text of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and she continues to work to promote and protect the human rights of all persons with all disabilities wherever possible and has made numerous presentations at the United Nations. She also holds a Master's Degree in Landscape Architecture from Cornell University with a particular interest in promoting universal design concepts that will enable all persons with all disabilities to have access to the outdoors while providing safety and security for all, whether they are inside institutions or not. She is a world-renowned classical harpist and has performed for His Holiness the Dalai Lama as well as for the celebration for the Entry Into Force of the new UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, held in the General Assembly Hall at UN Headquarters in New York City in May 2008. She holds a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

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photo of Carolyn Frohmader at her desk

Carolyn Frohmader, Member

Carolyn Frohmader is the Executive Director of Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA) and has held this position for more than fifteen years, working at national and international levels to promote and protect the human rights of women and girls with disabilities. Under Carolyn's leadership, WWDA has received a number of prestigious awards for its ground-breaking work including the National Human Rights Award and a number of national and state violence prevention awards.

Carolyn also has an extensive background in women's health, health policy, and community development. She has a Masters Degree from Flinders University where she won the inaugural Michael Crotty Award for an outstanding contribution in Primary Health Care. In 2001, Carolyn received the ACT Woman of the Year Award in recognition of her contribution to the promotion of women's rights in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In 2009, in recognition of her human rights work, she was inducted into the Tasmanian Women's Honour Roll, joining her late mother Wendy, who was posthumously inducted into the Roll in 2008 for services to education. In late 2009, Carolyn was also selected as a Tasmanian finalist for the Australian of the Year Awards (Tasmania).

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Contact WEI:
Stephanie Ortoleva, Esq.,

President and Founder

Women Enabled International, Inc.
1875 Connecticut Ave NW, 10th Floor
Washington D.C. 20009

+1.202.630.3818



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