Is there a gender power shift in the making?

By April 26, 2021 CSO Standard, NMedia

Anabel Cruz, ICD/ Rendir Cuentas

In the context of the International Women’s Day 2021, three Latin American women global leaders shared their reflections on the opportunities and challenges they face as women in the world of sustainable development and international NGOs. These are three women who today lead Oxfam International, ActionAid Internationaland CARE International: they spoke online a few weeks ago to share their experiences, opportunities and challenges. Many of the themes covered during their candid conversation resonate deeply with the pillars and the 12 commitments of the Global Standard for CSO Accountability, most notably that of transforming power relations at all levels in international NGOs, both internally and with their external stakeholders.

Gabriela Buchner, Julia Sánchez and Sofía Sprechman’s stories intertwine in remarkably similar ways. The three were born in South American countries – Julia in Peru, Gabriela in Colombia, and Sofía in Uruguay – and the three were touched early in their lives by the social injustice and inequality of the societies where they grew up. This early recognition led them to work in different countries and contexts, to participate in social and political organizations in the search for more inclusive societies, and to seek change together with communities and people who are protagonists of development. Coincidentally, the three reached the positions they hold today during 2020, at a critical and unprecedented moment in history, when the COVID-19 pandemic was barely declared. Thus, the challenges inherent in starting to lead international civil society organizations were coupled by transcendental changes at all levels, and by the challenges especially faced by women.

All three of them are passionate about gender equality and see this path as vital, both for the social and economic development of peaceful societies, and for the democratization of their own organizations. They express an unshakeable commitment to women and girls in the most vulnerable communities around the world, and emphasize the importance of their empowerment, of having a voice in the decisions of organizations that must promote behaviours and attitudes which ensure opportunities, rights and obligations of women and men in all spheres of life.

Power shift was a recurrent topic of conversation brought by Julia, Gabriela and Sofia, in connection on the one hand to gender power shift in international NGOs, a challenge they face as women leaders in a traditionally male dominated scenario. But they also talked about power sharing and how to ensure that decisions are open to power-sharing and responsive to feedback from people affected by the work of the organizations.

The transformations that these three women talk about and strive for require leaders who enable others to lead, building power with them instead of over them. It requires leaders that empower colleagues and share leadership, as well as a responsible and transparent use of power. Listening to their inspiring conversation we can only wonder if we may finally be witnessing a gender power shift in the making.

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