Traditional, vertical models of leadership embody traits such as an aggressive use of power and strict hierarchies. Feminist leadership, in contrast, recognises multiple and interconnected stakeholders. Instead of one group fixing the problems of another group, a feminist leadership model seeks to address underlying causes that are often embedded in social, economic, and political inequalities.
The lack of feminist leadership in the international development sector means that many organisations work to provide access to services, knowledge, and skills for the most marginalised communities but overlook the importance of dismantling the systems and structures that contribute to marginalisation and oppression in the first place. Indeed, the very organisations that are framed around ending inequalities could be harbouring these very same injustices within their own structure. We cannot assume, because of the progressive exterior, that no embedded sexism or other forms of discrimination remain.
Movements such as #MeToo and #NiUnaMas have helped awaken the world to the scale of structural sexism and systems of unequal power that produce dangerous conditions for many. The safeguarding and abuse of power crisis that hit our sector has exposed a deep disconnect between what we seek to achieve through our programmes and the leadership systems, structures, and power within our own organisations.
We need to transform our own systems and structures to promote feminist leadership models within our institutions. We must go beyond programmatic outcomes to also focus on reforming our ways of working including, diversity, inclusion, design, implementation, values, staffing and governance.
Define how feminist leadership can work in INGOs.
We must use examples of successful feminist leadership models and work to create a feminist leadership model guideline, and then work to implement it into our own organisations.
Create inclusive and safe spaces for dialogues within organisations and across the sector.
It’s important that we start from the vantage point of intersecting inequalities, which place issues of age, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation and gender identity at the heart of change. Feminist approaches to leadership and transformation must include women in all their diversity and different ways of thinking and organising.
Take a holistic approach to reform.
It must involve rooting out harmful behaviours within our sector and organisations. We must start candid conversations that might be challenging and require uncomfortable introspection about our own behaviour and biases – but, ultimately, enable us to build a fairer future.