by Patricia Hughes
These days, we are hearing more about the plight of women and girls globally, and also the role of women in creating a better future for their children and their communities. Two years ago UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet said “The 21st Century will be the century of girls and women,” and called on both women and men to take part in the “social, economic and political revolution” for gender equality and women’s empowerment. (U.N. Women, 2011, ¶ 1).
The Developing Women’s Leadership ~ Around the Globe Project also cares about unleashing women’s potential. We set out to learn about women’s ways of leading by supporting nine conversations around four key questions in eight cultures in the fall of 2012. These Conversations serve as a reminder that when women come together to harness the potential of the collective creation of power and influence, anything is possible. “It is commonly said that when you train a woman, you have trained the nation, hence, it is essential for institutions to pay particular attention to women and girls,” Betty Kagoro, Convener from Uganda says.
What do you care about in your community? The Conveners and the Conversation participants are mothers, friends, sisters, wives, daughters, professional employees, counselors, mentors, teachers, cheerleaders and life-long learners. They are involved in a wide range of issues that challenge their communities and families, including education, children and youth, health, microcredit, overcoming poverty, and the environment. While they have paid professions, the majority of their leadership work occurs in unpaid positions within their communities,
churches, and families.
What skills do you use?
The skills these women use in their work are diverse. Many of them would not call themselves leaders, but the skill sets they employ in their efforts are those that any leader will recognize: visioning, communication, patience, perseverance, acting on personal values, mentoring, planning, organizing, delegating, decision-making, mobilizing and many more. They are helping women to gain confidence and prominence in their communities, in cultures where women are often raped, sold, silenced, not allowed to handle money or venture outside the home. “It’s so important to promote gender equality, to change the culture of ignorance and promote the values,” says Mabilia in Guatemala. “You have to answer when women are being raped by their husbands,” says Lidieth in Nicaragua.
What skills would you like to learn?
The skills they would like to learn are those that will help them do their work with more effectiveness. They want to improve their written and
verbal communication, especially public speaking. They want to be able to facilitate and lead groups, to be able to handle the practical tasks of management. They seek expertise in technology and look for ways they can modernize their communities. They want skills that help them identify and claim shared values and skills that will increase their personal confidence. In the midst of all this, they seek ways to give themselves the self-care needed to do the work they so passionately believe in. “We seek educational opportunities, management scholarships and gender equity participation in working together and contributing ideas to achieve this,” Lidieth says.
How do you imagine you will gain these skills?
This Project, in additional to being collaborative, is grounded in the belief that the first role of leadership is to recognize that everyone is a leader and that everyone has inherent talents and gifts to share. It is not an activity reserved for a chosen few, but one that must be spread wide to be most effective. “Many efforts to advance women’s capacity to create change and leadership have been elitist, and do not necessarily include a lot of grassroots involvement,” says Betty. Claudine from Burkina Faso imagines that the long results of her work and that of other women leaders is nothing short of a “new generation of human beings, being born within a transformed community with strong values which protect them from poverty, discrimination, exclusion, not iniquity but solidarity, tolerance, peace, and wealth.”
One of our hopes for this Project is that the women involved will see themselves reflected as leaders, and that they will gain strength by seeing that they are unified around the world in their efforts to give women greater voice and opportunities. Leadership is not about position, title, or rank. Leadership is about being, knowing, and doing. Rocío from Guatemala summarizes well when she says, “I think the multiplier effect when these women have the opportunity to participate, learn and share is large, since several of them participate in their religious or social communities, this makes them could have impact on more women in their own families.”
Roz and Romajean’s conversations in the United States remind us that women need to care for themselves before, during, and after their giving work with others. In fact one of a leader’s strongest assets is her ability to authentically care to recognize that she is an individual who has much to offer, and who must remain resilient by taking care of herself. Working together is a theme that is repeated throughout this Guide. Collaboration is about cultivating strength, leveraging difference and being supportive of each other’s gifts, individually and collectively. Through collaboration, any woman can work toward co-creating a healthy, inclusive community where everyone has the ability to be heard and impact the course of events.
“I believe changing the attitude of women and equipping them with skills and knowledge will help the society to get out of poverty because it is the women who are mostly related with their children,” Weub in Ethiopia says. “If women build their confidence, they can make a difference.” And Tam in Vietnam, brings it all back to the ultimate purpose of this work, to eradicate poverty and make their worlds more compassionate and just for all who live there. “Poverty derives from many reasons,” she says, “but, you know, women play an important role in their family and society in finding the solution to poverty. Their leadership influences on every process in their lives. If they can learn how to live a better life, how to train themselves and others, how to change, difficulties become opportunities, how to call for help, how to link in together… all of these skills are priceless to help women overcome any challenges.”