Jul 17, 2019 | Emily Bove and Helene Wolf

Let’s finally embrace a feminist project for the development sector

Something is happening in the global development and civil society sector: more and more organisations are seeking new ways to shift their organisations towards diversity, inclusion and representation, often embracing feminist values and agendas to do so. The #AidToo movement, borne of the number of devastating reports about sexual misconduct and power abuse, showed the urgency to assess our internal structures and processes.

But this momentum we are witnessing also goes beyond the need to respond to sexual abuse in our sector. It follows a broader cultural shift that we are seeing happen beyond geographies: a new wave of feminism that is building power and influence to respond to the growing attacks and backlash against women’s rights and gender equality. As a sector, this is the time for us to push for the very values and beliefs we promote all around the world. If we are to achieve SDG 5 on gender equality, hold governments accountable on investing in women’s and girls’ rights, and ensure the wellbeing of our employees and partners, we have to re-think our cultures, policies and leadership models. We need to dismantle the very patriarchal norms and structures that have been stopping us from achieving our biggest potential. We need to walk the talk.

It is in this context that we both started two initiatives in early 2019: FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders and the Feminist Leadership Project. FAIR SHARE focuses on the lack of gender parity within civil society organisations (CSOs), measuring the number of women in top leadership positions and calling on all CSOs to ensure proportionate representation of women. A number of CSOs like Oxfam, Amnesty International, Plan International, CIVICUS and Transparency International have already signed a pledge to achieve a FAIR SHARE of women by 2030. The Feminist Leadership Project features feminist leaders in a series of videos to showcase and celebrate what a feminist leadership model for the development sector could look like. Leaders from all institutional levels share the positive impact of feminist leadership in our sector, in addition to their struggles and what they learned along the way.

It did not take long for our paths to cross in the virtual space. Eager to see how we could not just support each other, but also amplify the voices of others who are also pushing for feminist change in our sector, we held a number of discussions to see how we could collaborate. Last week, we finally met in person to put our heads together, a meeting hosted by our incredible colleagues at CARE France (as one of the leaders of Women7, the coalition for a feminist G7, CARE France was the perfect partner to welcome us).

Following this meeting, we are excited to announce that we have decided to join forces, and that The Feminist Leadership Project will be integrated into FAIR SHARE.

During the hours we spent together, it became obvious our missions overlapped and that there was much we could achieve together. We agreed on the following key observations as starting points for the new joint adventure:

  • Organisations will not achieve gender equality within their own organisations with the current models of decision-making and traditional understanding of leadership;

  • The sector has done harm both internally and externally in the past and will need new tools to heal and move towards a different understanding of their role and way of working;

  • Many leaders and organisations are searching for new ways forward. They are committed to transforming their organisations and are eager to do it together with others to learn together and share best practice but also failures and challenges along the way;

  • The concepts, principles and methodologies of feminist leadership offer a meaningful starting point for the conversations and change processes we seek to bring to the sector.

In the coming months, we will be working together to come up with innovative and creative strategies to achieve our new shared vision: becoming leaders in our sectors’ practice and supporting organisations in their transition to feminist policies and models at all levels. We are devising a joint feminist project that equips individuals and institutions with the feminist tools and strategies they need to build diverse, inclusive and representative leadership models.

We will collaborate with others doing this work already, and learn from them as we build up our collective power. We will talk to leaders who share this vision to understand what kind of support and cooperation they will need to achieve their goals. We will build a coalition of people and organisations who want to rock the boat with us. We will create concrete projects and tools to move us forward.

Watch this space or – even better – join us: share your ideas and visions for what this feminist project for the development sector should look like and how we can make it happen together.