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Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation


Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation Srilatha Batliwala Scholar Associate, Building Feminist Movements & Organizations (BFEMO) Initiative – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation

Feminist Leadership for Social Transformation
  • Srilatha Batliwala
  • Scholar Associate,
  • Building Feminist Movements Organizations
    (BFEMO) Initiative
  • AWID (Association for Womens Rights in

Questions to answer when trying to understand
abstract ideas (like leadership !)
5. What does it look like? (features,
1. What is it? (Definition)
4. How does it work? (power dynamics, key actors)
2. Where is it? (geographic, social, political,
institutional, sectoral)
3. What are the boundaries? (spatial,
demographic, conceptual)
1. What is it?
  • Definitions of leadership,
  • of feminine leadership, and feminist leadership

Leadership definitions What the men have said
  • That leader is best, When people are hardly
    aware of his existence, Not so good when people
    praise his government, Less good when people
    stand in fear, Worst, when people are
    contemptuous. Fail to honor people, and they will
    fail to honor you. But of a good leader, who
    speaks little, When his work is done, his aim
    fulfilled, The people say, We did it
  • Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (6th 4th Century B.C.)

What the men have said - 2
  • As for the best leaders, the people do not notice
    their existence. The next best, the people honor
    and praise. The next, the people fear the next,
    the people hate. Lao Tse
  • My definition of a leader . . . is a man who can
    persuade people to do what they don't want to do,
    or do what they're too lazy to do, and like it.
    Harry Truman
  • Leadership is the capacity to translate vision
    into reality. Warren Bennis

What the women have said Defining feminine
  • The feminine leadership style emphasizes
    cooperation over competition intuition as well
    as rational thinking in problem solving, team
    structures where power and influence are shared
    within the group . . . interpersonal competence
    and participative decision making. - Marilyn

Definitions of feminist leadership
  • . feminist . leadership is women and womens
    organizations sharing power, authority and
    decision-making in our common pursuit of social,
    legal, political, economic and cultural equality.
    DAWN Ontario, The Feminist Principle of
  • leadership should be about empowerment and aimed
    at change it is about building other womens
    capacities and confidence to be leaders in their
    communities. Mary Hartmann
  • Transformational leadership is leadership
    concerned with causing social change feminist
    transformational leadership is concerned with
    achieving gender justice. Peggy Antrobus

The best definition of feminist leadership!
  • To create something that replaces and surpasses
    you, that has a life of its own because there are
    many people who will be drawn into it and who
    will give leadership to it as a group, even if
    you move on or go away. To me, that has always
    been the measure of leadership The point is that
    wherever we are as women, wherever we are
    situated in our lives, we can advance a feminist
    agenda if we stop thinking about how to be
    leaders and think rather about how to be doers,
    how to be agents Gerda Lerner

The clearest definition of feminist leadership
  • Feminist leadership is oriented to a different
    arrangement of the human order
  • Re-distribution of power and re-distribution of
    responsibilities, beginning with transformation
    of psychic structures.
  • Bridging personal freedom with collective
  • Aiming at cooperation instead of competition. .
  • In feminist leadership equality, mutuality.
    should be visible, and promote. emotionality
    and the values of relationships.
  • feminist leadership is leadership congruent
    with feminist principles.
  • ADMIRA toolkit on Organizational Development

2. Where is it? 3. What are its boundaries?
  • Sites of feminist leadership the boundaries of
    our analysis

Feminist leadership is practiced in virtually
every location that women inhabit and wherever
women negotiate their lives and their work
  • Self, family, clan, tribe
  • Peer group / school, etc.
  • Community / collective
  • Organizations
  • Political institutions
  • Movements

Our Boundaries
  • We are concerned with the concept and practice of
    feminist leadership in institutions and processes
    concerned with promoting human rights, womens
    rights, gender equality, and social justice.
  • In judicial structures, political bodies, public
  • In social movements and social change
  • In womens movements and womens organizations

4. How does it work?
  • Unpacking the content of leadership the Four
    Ps of Power, Politics, Principles and Practice

The Four Ps in the Feminist Leadership Diamond

Feminist Leadership
history, experience
personality traits, psychic wellbeing
social, economic, and other identities
Personal social capital contacts, networks,
talents, abilities
Leadership as power power dynamics in
  • Visible / direct power the visible hierarchy /
    distribution of authority / roles
  • Hidden power who influences organizational
    decisions / culture / agendas without any formal
    / direct power
  • Invisible power the manipulation of
    organizational agendas / priorities, or peoples
    sense of self-esteem
  • Invisible and hidden power usually operate in the
    deep structures of organizations

Leadership as Politics Purpose
  • Politics means the analysis of the socio-economic
    forces within which we operate, and the
    ideological perspectives that inform our analysis
    (profit, public good, gender equality, social
    justice, etc.)
  • Purpose is the vision and mission for change that
    emerges from our politics See AFF Charter

Leadership as Principles Values
  • Leadership does not occur in a moral, social, or
    political vacuum
  • It must embody and practice the values and
    principles that inform the mission see the AFF
  • It must create conscious and transparent
    mechanisms for assessing whether the values are
    being practiced an upheld, and revise / expand
    them over time

Leadership as Practice
  • The pathways and methods by which we act and
    organize our actions to achieve the purpose
  • Doing and enabling a myriad things
  • developing strategies,
  • training people,
  • assessing and seizing opportunities,
  • analyzing problems and challenges,
  • building morale and team spirit,
  • resolving conflict,

5. What does it look like?
  • Myths, challenges, and manifestations of feminist

Recap Assumptions about power in feminist
  • Because were all women, we dont have to worry
    about it (yes we do)
  • We dont have any hierarchy (because you have a
    hidden / invisible one)
  • We are all equal here (no, were not)
  • Formalizing decision-making power and systems is
    patriarchal and bureaucratic (no, its more
    democratic and transparent)
  • I dont have to be accountable to you because I
    am accountable to the movement (Which one?
    Where? How?)
  • I should be allowed to get away with murder

Myths about feminist leadership
  • Feminists will lead differently / feminist
    organizations should be utopias
  • Feminists will share power more readily, more
    equally / feminist organizations will be flat and
  • Feminist leaders / organizations are inherently
    more transparent, open, mature, etc.
  • Feminists wont exploit, oppress, or be unfair
    they will be superwomen / saints

The challenges for practicing feminist leadership
  • Our conditioning in the use of power occurs
    before we become feminist
  • We have few positive / live examples or models of
    good feminist power and leadership
  • We are surrounded by patriarchal structures of
    power and leadership
  • We may embrace the theory, but our own histories,
    experiences, identities, and personalities often
    get in the way!
  • This is painful journey of exploration and
    experimentation there are no templates on offer!

Aspirations for / Ideals of feminist leadership
  • Multi-generational, with a special focus on
    building young womens leadership
  • Attempts to practice values of transparency,
    accountability, making hierarchies rational,
    visible, and open to change
  • Relational - building strong trusting
  • Creating safe environments for expression,
    self-care, participation, and growth of
    leadership skills.
  • Transformational simulating within the changes
    sought outside
  • Explicit awareness and attention to power
    dynamics - transparency
  • Not necessarily individual-centered
  • Awareness of self
  • Accountable to the larger goal, vision and

What the best womens movements have done to
practice feminist leadership
  • Making leadership development a conscious part of
    their movement-building strategy
  • Ensuring that over a period of time, all members
    of the movement get leadership opportunities, and
    a chance to build their leadership capacity
  • Building multiple layers and levels of leadership
  • Creating collective rather than individual
    leadership structures
  • Rotating leadership roles periodically, so that
    power does not become entrenched
  • Electing leaders democratically and holding them
    accountable to their mandate
  • Removing leaders who have violated the
    principles, politics, and practices of feminist

How can we begin to practice true feminist
  • Step 1 Analyzing and addressing power in our
    organizations most importantly, by unearthing
    the deep structure of our organizations
  • Step 2 examining and articulating our politics
    and purpose
  • Step 3 Enunciating the principles and values
    that will frame / guide our practice
  • Step 4 Designing / re-designing our practice to
    harmonize better with the other Ps
  • Step 5 ensuring mechanisms for checking how our
    self is intruding / obstructing our practice,
    and taking responsibility for dealing with this

Suggested Exercise
  • Map the deep structure of an organization you
    work in / know well
  • What negative aspects of these need to be tackled
    to move towards feminist leadership ideals?
  • How can these negative aspects be tackled?
  • What/who will help and what/who will hinder our
    attempt to make these changes?
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