IACD

Women, leadership and power – IACD 2014

International Association for Community Development Conference – Glasgow 2014: Community Is The Answer
Report from a workshop – Women, leadership and power; Equalities, social justice and community development

 

This WomenLC6workshop, facilitated by changes/Working for Change hoped to develop some of the themes that emerged from changes’ workshop at the prior Lisbon conference, where the focus was on women and transformational leadership[1]. At the Glasgow conference, we sought to create a vibrant space to encourage challenging and insightful conversations around women, leadership and power.  We planned for group discussion, versus lecture, and ambitiously sought to address these complex questions and ideas in our brief 90 minute session.  To facilitate group discussion, we split participants into groups using fruit – pomegranates, pineapples, and grapes.

changes were pleased to support the attendance of six women at the conference from the cohort of women from the African Diaspora they were working with at the time around leadership.[2] We were excited for opportunities to have discussions around power, leadership and change; benefitting women looking to develop their leadership confidence and become more active in community, public or global life. This seemed assured, as the discussions in the leadership programme were directly related to the theme for day two of conference – harnessing the wealth of communities.  This theme complimented our collaborative efforts with our Diaspora leadership programme, offering opportunities to share experiences in the journeys and challenges faced around leadership for self, family, community and wider society.  Traditionally,  the assumed identity of a ‘leader’ is male, therefore, there are important discussions around gender and power that must accompany a process of women recognizing themselves, and being recognized as leaders (hence the term “transformative” in our session).  Freeing up the wealth that women offer their communities requires these complex discussions of gender, power, and leadership, and we focused on these ideas during our session.

A participant in the session, Lucy Mayes of Heart Works Australia, wrote a blog entry about the workshop for the September edition of the Australian Journal of Community Development.

More pointedly, we were interested in how Lucy described the discussions in the session, and the way she highlighted the visions participants had vis-à-vis the potential contributions the increased involvement of women could bring to community development:

So what, in the opinion of the pomegranates, would it look like in a world where women aren’t valued, equal and valuing themselves? It didn’t, as you would know, take too much imagination (please note, these lists came out of a five minute brainstorm with a small group of people and are only scratching the surface of where these excellent questions might take us). There would, we decided, be: breakdown of family units; family violence; stagnant development; loss of skills to society; compromised mental health, spiritual health, general health and children’s health; lack of representation and democratic c deficit; and disempowered communities. One comedian added that nothing at all would happen.

And if we (women) were more involved in creating the wealth, what might that look like? We decided there would be: more checks and balances in the system; more focus on social justice, social services, human rights and environmental protection; families and communities would be healthier physically, emotionally and spiritually; there would be more diverse economies and increased family income; balanced leadership and increased collaborative decision making; women and children would be safer; compassion and sensitivity would be given higher value; we would enjoy a more holistic world; there would be better emotional health for both men and women; and there would be a better balance between the domestic economy and the wealth economy.

Lucy speaks to the negative ways our gendered binary plays out in community development.  When one gender is pushed to an extreme, limited in how it may be expressed, the other side of that binary system is equally limited: the more women’s gendered expectations (beauty, servitude, passive behaviour) are narrowed, the more men’s oppositional gendered expectations (masculine appearance, dominance, active leadership) are narrowed as well.  In terms of leadership, the more men are pushed into the limelight as leaders, and their gendered traits valued as conditions of leadership, the more women are pushed out, and devalued when they adopt leadership behaviours.WomenLC5
It is in these ways that gender is shaped by our daily interactions, creating the context for how women, girls, men, and boys live their lives.  Strict gendered expectations limit the expressions for everyone.  Women may be left out of leadership decision-making, their needs unacknowledged.  Men who do not adopt masculine behaviour, or who show more passive traits may be limited in their communities as well.  Cultural assumptions of who is a leader, and whose voices are important to be considered, are formed with notions of gender normative behaviour.

Normative behaviour extends into issues of sexuality, race, class, and nationality.  The concept of “intersectionality” describes the dynamic that individuals may experience multiple differences that define them in cultural or social categories that are non-normative, or out of step with the most valued traits.  This could include people of colour in a society dominated by white leaders, or being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transsexual in a world defined by hetero-normativity (the assumption that all people couple with only differently sexed partners).  Minority religious practices may also be a contributor to issues of intersectionality, as a factor for exclusion, repression, or marginalization in economy, society, or community life.  As practitioners and academics in community development, the heart of our work is to recognize those differences and work toward equality, as our field understands that societies are enriched by our differences.  This is the backbone of social justice.

Developing leaders, then, becomes a process of social change – addressing social roles, conducting social activities. Leadership is not something you do by yourself – it is essentially social and interpersonal.  Creating leaders means working with people to identify their differences, honour their experiences, and teach self-awareness that allows for growth beyond social norms and expectations.  Enacting leadership within communities is a process of challenging individual view of the self, challenging other’s views, as well as challenging social views of what defines a leader. These are all foundational to creating a context for change.

Along those lines, workshop participants identified that we need the following conditions to facilitate women’s leadership development (click on photo to enlarge).

Women_LC1

To create the conditions needed to harness the potential wealth women bring to communities and society, there is a need for individual, community and institutional responses; we have to question how we think, what we think and what we do. We all have roles to play where we can start to do things differently; in our families, community organisations and in wider institutions.

We are eager to continue these conversations by asking, how can we:

  • Engage men and women in these conversations
  • Challenge media representation of women
  • Look for alternative positive role models of active influential women
  • Encourage collaboration between men and women
  • Question structures that favour a ‘male style’ of working
  • Explore solutions and conversational styles together
  • Offer childcare and avoid token women at the table

Further, we are looking to how we can have these conversations and push these important and critical issues of gender and difference using community development processes.

[1] We aim to increase the pool of women who make a pivotal difference; women who influence change as well as inspire and support others to find their ‘leader within’. http://www.iacdglobal.org/publications-and-resources/conference-reports/lisbon-papers

[2] Funded through Common Ground Initiative https://www.gov.uk/international-development-funding/common-ground-initiative-cgi

 

Note on contributors

Co-authorship of this piece by:

Jill Bedford, Director changesuk

Holly Scheib, PhD MPH MSW, Director, Sage Consulting, USA

…with timely contribution from Lucy Mayes, Heart Works, Australia

Tags: , , ,