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Women and Leadership

Edited by Caroline Sweetman

Oxfam Focus on Gender

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Editorial 2
Caroline Sweetman

'Point of order, Mr Speaker': African women claiming their space in parliament 8

Sylvia Tamale

From palm tree to parliament: training women for political leadership and public life 16
Lesley Abdela

Towards realistic strategies for women's political empowerment in Africa 24

Sara Hlupekile Longwe

Collective action, organisation building, and leadership: women workers in the

garment sector in Bangladesh 31
Petra Dannecker

'Empowered leaders'? Perspectives on women heading households in Latin America

and Southern Africa 40
Kavita Datta and Cathy Mcllwaine

Transformational leadership: advancing the agenda for gender justice 50

Peggy Antrobus

Leadership for adolescent girls: the role of secondary schools in Uganda 57

Jill Sperandio

The leadership role of international law in enforcing women's rights:

the Optional Protocol to the Women's Convention 65
Kwong-Leung Tang

Leadership for social transformation: some ideas and questions on institutions

and feminist leadership 74
Aruna Rao and David Kelleher

Resources 80
Compiled by Erin Murphy Graham
Publications 80
Organisations 84
Electronic resources 85
Videos 86

espite the advances towards order to promote gender equality. Writers
recognition of women's political, here make a clear distinction between
economic, and social equality with women's and feminist leadership, but
men during the twentieth century, there is a discuss the complex relationship that exists
continuing lack of women leaders to between these concepts. Some are personal
determine the political, economic, and testimonies, describing the authors'
social progress of humanity. Women are experience of the struggle to lead - whether
largely absent from senior positions in the as politicians, activists, or 'change agents'
national and international institutions that in development institutions.
govern our lives.
In contrast, women have set up Development, democracy,
thousands of vibrant, visionary organi-
sations of their own, which have
and women
had considerable success in influencing the The view of the male leaders of colonial
policy of governments, international and post-colonial governments was that the
financial institutions, and development 'backward' position of women in Third
agencies over the past 30 years. However, World countries would be improved as a
while this success is to be saluted, women's result of economic development, as this
continuing absence from the key political would finance 'modern' education, and
and economic institutions that shape encourage the formation of democratic,
women's and men's access to and control social, and political institutions.
over resources is a scandal. Why are However, contrary to the beliefs and
women leaders still marginalised from hopes of many, a high level of national
real power, and what will it take to wealth and the presence of a democratic
change this? political system do not automatically lead
Articles here attempt to answer these to equal numbers of women and men in
questions, and offer insights for develop- government. In 1996, Switzerland ranked
ment policy makers and practitioners, who 12th in the United Nations' Human
aim to promote gender equality and Development Index (HDI) ranking, while
support women would-be leaders, within Cote d'lvoire ranked 154th. However,
wider society and their organisations. Switzerland and Cote d'lvoire each had 7.1
Moving beyond technical 'fixes', including per cent of positions in government at all
training for leadership, they argue that the levels filled by women (UNDP 1999, 240-1).
institutions that rule our societies Countries that have adopted commitments
themselves need to be transformed, in to promoting women in leadership

positions through policies of affirmative leadership position in democracies, would-

action include South Africa and Uganda, be women leaders are in fact much less
both of which have a far greater number of likely to be elected, since political parties
women in political leadership positions and parliaments have cultures, systems,
than many Western nations. and procedures that are biased in men's
The Beijing Platform for Action, the favour. Those women who are elected are
output of the UN Fourth Conference on often those who play according to the rules
Women, sums up the issue as follows: of the game, rather than challenging them.
'Despite the widespread movement Ironically, as Sylvia Tamale points out
towards democratisation in most countries, in her article on African women's
women are largely under-represented parliamentary leadership, some political
at most levels of government ... and have structures indigenous to Africa offered
made little progress in ... achieving the women a greater degree of scope for
target endorsed by the Economic and political and economic leadership then
Social Council of having 30 per cent of they have under parliamentary democracy,
women in position at decision-making and power was not so closely associated
levels by 1995' (United Nations 1996, with men and maleness, but these
Section G paragraph 181). It seems that, structures were swept away in the colonial
despite the fact that women in North and and post-colonial era.
South played a central role in the struggles
of the twentieth century to achieve political,
civil, and social rights, 'women's represen- Women's leadership and
tation ... is not a necessary consequence of development
greater degrees of democracy in civil and Policy makers in Northern governments,
political institutions' (Goetz 1998, 241). This international development agencies, and
is because citizenship and democracy are international financial institutions, are
not gender-neutral concepts (Lister 1997). gradually coming to the realisation that
If women are to become leaders, this just and sustainable economic development
depends on them attaining 'social as well as depends on women being free to make
civil and political rights, and upon gaining decisions on a par with men at all levels
institutional power' (Molyneux 1998, 241). of society. In particular, it is essential to
Studies of gender and institutions over the have more women in political leadership
past 15 years have highlighted that if women's gender interests are to be
women's chances of attaining leadership advanced. If leadership is male-dominated,
are limited by gender biases, which are gender biases in distribution and control of
inherent in the institutions - whether resources will remain, and women will
parliaments or bureaucracies - that run the continue to be more vulnerable to economic
world. Their admission procedures, rules, poverty and social marginalisation.
and working culture reflect their roots in Taking its lead from the international
Western Europe, three centuries ago, when women's movement in setting an agenda
citizens were assumed to be male and for equality, peace, and prosperity, the
white (Lister 1997). Because of the male Beijing Platform for Action stressed that
bias of parliamentary and bureaucratic women's full citizenship, and right to lead,
institutions, women will not automatically need to be pursued as ends in themselves.
find their interests represented, or This would ensure that democratic
themselves in leadership positions, as a governments fulfil their role of representing
result of a transition to democracy. While the interests of all, and not just those of
voters often assume that women and men elites. It states, 'Achieving the goal of equal
stand an equal chance of attaining a participation of women and men in
decision-making will provide a balance that However, development policy and
more accurately reflects the composition practice informed by a commitment to
of society, and is needed in order to 'empowering' women has not often focused
strengthen democracy and promote its on promoting women's leadership at the
proper functioning' (United Nations 1996, level of the state and national institutions.
paragraph 181). Since Beijing, many Thus, the current popularity of promoting
development organisations have given women's leadership as a development goal
attention to the issue of promoting has heralded a shift towards funding
women's leadership. With differing degrees different kinds of activities. Strategies for
of success, they have started to confront the promoting women's leadership focus either
issues of male bias in their culture, on building the capacity of women
systems, and procedures, outlined in the themselves, or on overcoming the
previous section. Two articles here - from structural barriers that they face.
Peggy Antrobus, and David Kelleher and
Aruna Rao - challenge leaders of develop- Building women's capacity for
ment organisations to join in this work of leadership
transforming institutions, and offer their A growing number of international and
thoughts on how to do so. national development organisations have
started to support training courses that aim
From 'empowerment' to to promote 'women's leadership', chiefly
through stressing the importance of
'leadership' education, and of skills- and assertiveness-
A focus on women's leadership may seem training. For some, this is merely another
to be a logical progression from the example of taking a political issue and
commitment to 'women's empowerment' neutralising it through providing a
made by many development organisations technocratic response. In her article, Sara
in the late 1980s. The impact of Longwe focuses on women's leadership
'empowerment' initiatives on gender training in the context of Zambia, arguing
relations has been highly variable, and the that development organisations should
topic of heated debates among researchers. support women's campaigning and
Many development interventions that advocacy activities, and challenge
aimed to promote the empowerment of governments to put their commitment to
women focused on women's leadership at gender equality into action. She sees
household and community level. For leadership training as an apolitical strategy
example, countless development projects favoured by development agencies that
aim to promote women's 'participation have adopted the language of power and
in decision-making' at community level, politics, while doing little to challenge
while others focus on the 'economic unequal relationships between women and
empowerment' of women leaders of men, the South and the North, and political
households. Attempts have been made to elites and grassroots communities. In
increase women's autonomy within male- contrast, Lesley Abdela provides a more
headed households by promoting their optimistic view of leadership training,
involvement in income generation, and drawing on her own experience of working
resources have been poured into projects to promote gender parity in parliament in
and programmes which aimed to promote the UK and other countries, and discussing
women's participation in community-level the role of leadership training courses for
decision-making, and to alleviate the women in different countries. Abdela sees
poverty of women household heads and such training as a necessary part of
their dependants. promoting women's leadership in politics,

while she acknowledges the need for A strategy that aims to overcome
structural change to counter male hostility structural barriers in male-biased
to women. institutions is affirmative action (also
While education cannot be assumed to known as 'positive discrimination'), which
lead to women attaining leadership has been adopted within political parties in
positions in parliament, good-quality some countries, and by some bureaucracies.
education does play a key role in building Recruitment procedures are developed with
women's capacity to become leaders the aim of redressing an imbalance of men
in society. Education is needed that and women at senior levels. In both Uganda
encourages independent, critical thought, and South Africa, governments-in-waiting
fosters self-confidence, and provides young have agreed a policy of affirmative action,
girls with a vision of what they might in order to gain women's support at the
become. In her article in the role of polling booths (Goetz 1998). In her article,
secondary schools in promoting women's Sylvia Tamale discusses the experience of
leadership, Jill Sperandio discusses Ugandan the significant number of Ugandan women
women's and girls' views of the roles of who entered parliament as a result. She
schooling, and exposure to female role highlights the fact that continuing
models, in encouraging them to become discrimination, as well as internalised ideas
leaders in later life. about male and female behaviour, hamper
female MPs and prevent their full
Overcoming the structural barriers participation in governance.
A key structural barrier to women's
leadership is lack of legal equality. Until
every national legal system enforces Alliance-building: women's
women's rights on a par with men, women organisations and 'change
will continue to be second-class citizens.
Violence and mental intimidation will
continue to be the ultimate barrier to In view of the huge difficulty that women
women's leadership at all levels of society, have in entering leadership positions in
from household to state. Women need laws governments and bureaucracies through
that assert their full citizenship and enforce the normal procedures, many women
their rights. Kwong-Leung Tang discusses activists choose to further their concerns by
the recent process of obtaining the Optional lobbying and campaigning outside
Protocol to the Women's Convention (often mainstream government and bureaucratic
known as CEDAW, although this acronym structures. As Peggy Antrobus shows in her
actually refers to the Committee that article, the success of the international
enacts the Convention). The Optional women's movement over the past two and
Protocol provides women in ratifying a half decades is particularly impressive
countries with an international legal because of two things. First, women's
instrument to use if their own national legal organisations differ extremely widely in
system fails to enforce their rights. She their aims and agendas. There is no single
points out the huge role of the international set of 'women's interests', 'because of
women's movement in obtaining the differences between women by class,
Optional Protocol, but highlights the fact ethnicity, race, religion and so on' (Goetz
that ongoing work is needed to ensure 1998, 243). Collective action depends on
that governments ratify it, and that agreeing to differ on some issues, in order
women have access to it through legal to further a common goal. Second, this
literacy and resources to enable them to use collective action has been undertaken in the
the law. face of the attempts of conservative forces,
including right-wing women's organis- no guarantee that women leaders will
ations, to derail the process by undermining promote gender equality, and there is also
the principle of gender equality. It should no guarantee that male leaders will not do
be recalled that there is a very important so. Bureaucratic and democratic principles
difference between women's action and dictate that leaders should represent the
feminist action (in the sense of action that interests of others, even when these
seeks to transform unequal gender power interests are at odds with their own.
relations), which is not always brought However, while some leaders can and do
out strongly enough in debates and represent agendas that they do not share
documents: not all women are feminists, personally, this principle is often forgotten:
and not all feminists are women. there is a very clear relationship between
In order to achieve real change for personal identity and experience, and
women, however, engagement with commitment to furthering a cause.
mainstream institutions is necessary. A key In their article, Kavita Datta and Cathy
strategy for the international women's Mcllwaine ask whether women household
movement has been to build alliances with heads adopt a different style of leadership
feminist women - sometimes referred to as from their male counterparts. Their
'change agents' (Macdonald et al. 1997), who conclusion is that it is mistaken to assume
are working inside the mainstream. In her that individual women household heads
article, Peggy Antrobus considers the will necessarily adopt different leadership
scope for women inside bureaucracies to styles. Factors that influence an individual
further feminist agendas, and shares her woman's leadership style include her age,
own experience of what she terms ethnicity, and economic status, and the fact
'transformational feminist leadership' that surrounding culture and social
which transforms the agenda of a structures remain biased in men's favour.
bureaucracy from within, and transforms While some women do pursue more
an international agenda to ensure it reflects egalitarian leadership styles, others emulate
the concerns of feminists. Throughout the those associated with men.
United Nations conferences of the past In her article on Bangladeshi women's
25 years, the international feminist experience of leadership in the garment
movement has worked with huge skill to industry, Petra Dannecker discusses the
ensure that the outcomes of the conferences case of a union set up by women garment
have included a strong feminist element. workers themselves - the Bangladesh
Independent Garment Workers Union -
What is different about and compares women's experiences within
women's leadership? this union with their feelings of alienation
from the formal trade union, dominated by
It is obvious that half the leaders of men. The organisation aims to improve
humanity should be female on grounds of employment conditions and support
equity alone, because women make up half members in ways that they define
the human race. Debates on how women's themselves. Through cultural programmes
leadership may or may not differ from and legal literacy training, among other
that of men should not distract us from activities, it aims to generate a feeling of
this point. Having said this, the world solidarity.
needs leaders who will further the Peggy Antrobus's article concentrates on
agenda of peace, equality, and sustainable women leaders only, rather than focusing
development. on men's potential to advance the feminist
The link between personal identity and agenda. In the context of bureaucracies,
leadership style is a complex one. There is she points out that women who have not

previously advanced gender concerns may References

be influenced to do so. It is also possible for
women leaders to switch allegiances at Goetz, A-M. (1998), 'Women in politics and
strategic moments. For example, within gender equity in policy: South Africa and
'mainstream' political or bureaucratic Uganda', Review of African Political
institutions, it is very rare for women to Economy, 76: 241-62.
have risen to leadership positions on a Lister, R. (1997), Citizenship: Feminist
platform of women's gender interests, and Perspectives, Macmillan.
advancement may depend on their loyalty Macdonald, M., E. Sprenger, and I. Dubel,
to another cause. However, when there are (1997), Gender and Organisational Change,
many women in leadership positions, they KIT Press.
may be able to advance the cause of women Molyneux, M. (1998), 'Analysing women's
despite the risk that their actions may not movements', in Jackson, C. and R.
please those in authority. Pearson (eds), Feminist Visions of
Considerable attention has also been Development: Gender Analysis and Policy,
given over the years to the issue of Routledge.
organisational structure. Is a hierarchical United Nations (1996), Platform for Action
command structure inherently inappro- and the Beijing Declaration, New York:
priate to further women's interests? Some United Nations Department of Public
argue that a form of politics that is Information.
genuinely democratic and respectful of the
right to self-determination should reject
bureaucratic organisational structures in
favour of flat, co-operative structures.
However, it is extremely hard to envisage a
substitute. Indeed, there is considerable
evidence from women and men who work
in flat organisational structures that formal
forms of dominance and control are
replaced by informal forms - resulting in a
'tyranny of powerlessness' (Molyneux 1998).
However, it is true that collaborative
work between different organisations in
the women's movement has led to networks
and coalitions in which it is sometimes hard
to discern leadership. In their article, Aruna
Rao and David Kelleher discuss the different
values and ways of working associated by
many with feminist commitment, and
identify key qualities in transformational
leaders. If hierarchical organisational
models and notions of top-down control
are completely rejected, the notion of
leaders as those who have power over
others has to be questioned. Social
transformation is about recognising the
power within all of us to become leaders.
'Point of order, Mr Speaker':
African women claiming their space in
parliament 1
Sylvia Tamale
At the close of the millennium, there is a wave of invigorating air sweeping across the African
continent. The refreshing breeze can be felt in the form of women smashing the gendered
'glass ceiling' in a bid to overcome the cultural and structural barriers that impede their political
careers. In this short article, I examine the relationship of African women2 to parliament. In the first
section, I look at women's involvement in politics in pre-colonial Africa, and then examine the
barriers to women's political activity thrown up by colonialism. This history explains much about
women's absence from contemporary African national assemblies. I then focus on one state -
Uganda - looking closely at the policy of affirmative action there, and the reality of male bias,
prejudice, and sexual harassment that women MPs confront when they manage to enter parliament.

frican women are currently giving

represent a very small minority of state
men a run for their money in the national legislators. South Africa has the
highest political offices of their highest number of women representatives
land. They include Eileen Sirleaf-Johnson among national legislatures in Africa, and
of Liberia, Rose Rugendo of Tanzania, was the first African country to achieve the
Charity Ngilu of Kenya, Inonge Mbikusita- 1995 UN target of 30 per cent for the
Lewanika of Zambia, and Margaret Dongo representation of women in parliament
of Zimbabwe. Specioza Wandira-Kazibwe, (United Nations 1996, para 182). Seychelles
from my own country, Uganda, is the first stands second at 27.3 per cent, followed
woman to ascend to the second highest by Mozambique, Namibia, Eritrea, and
political position in the land: a true rarity in Uganda. At the other end of the spectrum
Africa, and across the world. But African are countries such as Djibouti and the
women remain grossly under-represented Comoros, where the assemblies are
in the institutions that make decisions for exclusively composed of men. Have
their nations. By the close of the last African women always been absent from
millennium, in only 17 African countries the decision-making process in their
did women account for ten per cent or communities?
more of parliamentarians. This article is based on research I
Clearly, we have a problem here. conducted between 1995 and 1998. The
African women were active participants in information on Ugandan women parlia-
the struggle for political independence all mentarians comes from notes I made from
over the continent. More recently, they observations in the National Assembly, and
have also played active roles in liberation interviews with legislators - 40 women,
movements, in countries including Uganda and 15 men.3
(Byanyima 1992). But in spite of these
contributions, women in Africa still
African women claiming their space in parliament 9

Understanding women's In her work, Kamene Okonjo contrasts

absence: history revisited the 'dual-sex' political structures of West
African traditional societies with the
Pre-colonial Africa 'single-sex' system existing in much of
Male-authored, male-biased history texts the North. She shows that despite
have failed to acknowledge women's past the patriarchal structure of much of
contributions to the political life of most pre-colonial Africa, women were not
African societies. Recently, a growing totally subordinate. In a single-sex system,
literature has aimed to correct the record, 'political status-bearing roles are predomi-
by highlighting the important roles of nantly the preserve of men ... [and] women
African women as political actors in the can achieve distinction and recognition
pre-colonial period (for example, Staudt only by taking on the roles of men in
1989; Agorsah 1990). This scholarship seeks public life and performing them well'
to document certain structural features of (Okonjo 1976, 45). Okonjo describes in
pre-colonial African political economy that detail how authority structures in Africa
provided specific roles for women. were distinctly sex-separate. She
The status of African women was not demonstrates how the dual-sex system
equal to that of men (Hafkin and Bay 1976; worked among the Igbo of Nigeria, where
Amadiume 1987); patriarchal societies the functions of the Obi (male monarch)
predominated on much of the continent. were parallel to, and complementary
However, African women played extremely with, those of the Omu (female monarch).
important and diverse social roles, and Okonjo argues that 'within this system,
wielded substantial economic and political each sex manages its own affairs, and
power all over the continent. While a sexual women's interests are represented at all
division of labour preceded the colonial levels' (ibid.). Sex-separate institutions were
period in many African societies (Schmidt also found in East Africa. For example,
1991), this was not divided along among the Kikuyu of Kenya, women
productive and reproductive lines. During performed economic, social and judicial
pre-colonial times, most African women functions through an age-segmented
were fully engaged in both reproductive institution called ndundu (Stamp 1975).
and productive activities (Okeyo 1980).
Women's participation in trade was so The colonial period
vigorous that in many African contexts they However, the colonial intrusion into
formed women's market networks, which African societies 'added new dimensions to
gave them a high degree of economic the differentiation between the sexes'
power. Women in Ghana, for example, had (Chazan et al. 1988, 87). When Europeans
total control of the proceeds from their colonised Africa, they transplanted their
trade sales - a factor that gave them relative ideas of male-dominated politics, and
autonomy from men (Agorsah 1990). In ignored African women's political and
addition, the well-organised market economic activities. This created the
networks often formed a strong basis for conditions for denying adulthood to
women's political activities. For example, in women, defining them as wards of men
1929, when the Igbo and Ibibio women of (Staudt 1989). By eroding most of the power
Nigeria rose against the British colonial and autonomy that African women had
authority in the famous 'Women's War', previously enjoyed, colonialism pushed
communication and co-ordination them to the limits of subordination.
throughout the war was accomplished For example, when the British
through marketing networks known as colonialists took over power in Nigeria,
mikiri (Mba 1982). they only recognised the male Obi (to

whom they offered a monthly salary); they consumer who could motivate her
completely ignored the female Omu. husband's productivity.
Kamene Okonjo concludes that 'the
She must be educated to want a better home,
absence of women from meaningful
better furnishings, better food, better water
political representation in independent
supplies, etc. and if she wants them she will
Nigeria can be viewed as showing the
want them for her children. In short, the
strength of the legacy of single-sex politics
sustained effort from the male will only come
that the British colonial masters left
when the woman is educated to the stage when
behind' (Okonjo 1976, 58).
her wants are never satisfied (Roddan 1958,
A systematic and deliberate colonial quoted in Staudt 1989, 78).
policy ensured that African women were
excluded from politics. Women were
distanced from decision-making in Independence and beyond
agricultural production and other forms At the time of formal independence from
of production, due to Western views about colonial rule, most African countries
the '..."proper" place of men and women in accorded full political rights to women.
societies' (Staudt 1981, 5). It has also been Not only did they have full suffrage rights,
argued that shifting decision-making from but they were also free to stand for any
community level to the colonial capital political office.5 Susan Geiger suggests that
cities lessened women's opportunities to it was in the best interest of African
influence political decision-making, nationalist leaders to present themselves as
because women had relied on influencing 'enlightened proponents of Western
their male kin informally (Strobel 1982). democracy and equality' (Geiger 1990, 227).
Several scholars cite missionary However, at independence, Africa
education as the single most important inherited political ideologies and structures
policy that adversely affected African designed to consolidate male privilege
women in relation to men (for example, and power, and women's subordination.
Weis 1980). In order to participate in Male authority in post-independent
competitive party politics and parlia- African states was so ubiquitous that for a
mentary democracy, one needs some basic very long time it was taken for granted.
education in subjects such as English, Recently, feminist theorists have begun to
civics, the law, and political science, fields question the concept of 'the state', and
that at the time were the exclusive preserve challenge the patriarchal power encoded in
of men. The education given to girls in the it. They have shown that the division
colonial era certainly did not provide between the 'public' and 'private' spheres
women with the intellectual skills needed is artificial, and has had a huge negative
to participate in Western-style politics impact on women (MacKinnon 1989).
imposed on the colonies at independence. There was no political ideology at
Education for women was primarily geared independence - or, to put it another way, no
towards providing the educated men with strong women's movement - to challenge
good wives and home-makers, and focused men's domination (Strobel 1982, 126).
on domestic skills, nutrition, and home Where women's organisations existed,
economics. As in Victorian Europe, not these were often closely connected to
only were educational opportunities the male elite who were to rule after
disproportionately provided to males, but independence. For example, at the time of
men's education was also accorded higher independence in 1963, Kenya had a
priority than that of women (Staudt 1981). 4 nominally autonomous national women's
Moreover, the educated African housewife organisation called Maendeleo ya Wanawake
was viewed by the colonisers as a potential (Women's Progress) which held the
African women claiming their space in parliament 11

mandate for promoting the advancement of quential, and increased representation

African women. Although it started by would not be likely to produce significant
criticising the Kenyan government, its change' (Staudt 1981,19).
leaders were soon co-opted as wives and
kin of male national leaders. Audrey Affirmative action: lessons
Wipper asks the rhetorical question: 'With
husbands, brothers and fathers occupying from Uganda
some of the most powerful positions in One of the ways that African governments
the country, do they have too much at stake have sought to redress the problem of
to query certain practices, let alone take women's paucity in decision-making
action to oppose the power structure?' positions is through the introduction of
(Wipper 1975, 116). African women's affirmative action programmes. Ugandan
continued absence in the political sphere women, for example, have a constitutional
is due in large part to this failure to 'sex quota' - reserved seats - at the level of
challenge the deep social inequalities that parliament and local councils. This has
result in female poverty and subordination. helped considerably to boost the number
In Tanzania, the national women's of women politicians. Today, female
organisation, Umoja Wa Wanawake Wa parliamentary representation in Uganda
Tanzania (UWT - United Women's stands at 18.1 per cent. This has certainly
Organisation of Tanzania), officially a part altered the Ugandan political landscape,
of the ruling party in Tanzania, was also albeit in contradictory and complex ways.
charged with the task of improving the The benefits to women from the
lives of poor rural women. Despite all affirmative action experiment are limited
UWT's efforts, women's status in Tanzania by the fact that it was a top-down policy
did not show any significant improvement. imposed by the state. In 1989, the National
Susan Rogers identifies the problem not to Resistance Movement (NRM) government
be co-optation, as in the case of Maendeleo, gained the support of women legislators by
but rather the uncritical 'acceptance of the offering them access to the political world
sexual division of labour and accompanying of male power. However, challenging
gender relations as essentially unalterable inequality between women and men was
conditions of human existence, even not on NRM's agenda. The fact that the
as Tanzanian women themselves identify state is not a guaranteed ally in the struggle
these relations as central to their oppression...' for gender equity makes it extremely
(Rogers 1983, 38). important that the women's movement in
Analyses of why African women Uganda marks a critical distance from the
remain largely absent from political life state. But women continue to support the
today must also explore the larger NRM government because it gave them
structures within which African politics access to the political arena, and this has
are played out. The prospects of political nipped any popular opposition in the bud.
systems integrating women in Africa are Women activists need to stop 'thanking'
dim indeed, in light of the fact that national the NRM for having 'delivered' them from
structures are themselves shaped and oppression. They should not view the
influenced by regional or international policy as a privilege but a right: it is merely
contexts. In the context of globalised a political opportunity, within which to
politics, the realities of African politics advance the emancipation of women in all
within the prevailing hierarchical world spheres of life.
economic order mean that '...[at] the top The problem is exacerbated by the
stratum, which international movers of politics of patronage, whereby resource-
capital dominate, women are inconse- poor women (and men), in the context of

an underdeveloped economy, have to common problems and challenges,

depend on the resource-controlling state irrespective of their mode of entry into the
as a vital back-up for advancing their legislature (that is, whether through
political careers. Complacent in their affirmative action or the direct route).
positions of power, many affirmative action When women step over from the
beneficiaries do not engage in serious self- 'private' sphere to claim their rightful space
analysis concerning their role in parliament, in the 'public' arena, traditional values
nor do they seriously or systematically provide a ready tool for men to use to
question the gender implications of remind them of their 'proper' place. But the
state-sponsored bills. same men will hasten to strike down
The affirmative action policy has proved custom as outmoded and archaic if it stands
to be class-centric, largely benefiting an in their way to power and privilege.
educated elite minority among Ugandan Ugandan women internalise such tradi-
women. In this sense, the policy has tional concepts and the stereotypical
perpetuated mainstream post-colonial images painted of women by society. This
politics, which has excluded the voices of sometimes leads them to resent other
the largest section of the peasant 'deviant' women who enter national
population (both men and women). In politics. This explains the women-on-
other words, the political situation of the women verbal violence and denigration
majority of women who face the brunt of that was demonstrated in many
oppression and marginalisation, for whom constituencies in which women were
affirmative action was purportedly contesting each other during the 1996
targeted, largely remains constant. general elections.
Affirmative action policies are essentially The male-dominated media in Uganda
limited in that they neglect class-based represents one of the patriarchal pillars
interests (Sikhosana 1996). When Uganda that serves to perpetuate gender subor-
introduced affirmative action as an dination and oppression. Operation of the
experiment in 1989, it was a reformist old-boy network within the male political
strategy, which did not deal with the elite is extended to include the fraternity of
underlying structural problems of the reporters, journalists, and editors who serve
system. It could only therefore be of as gatekeepers to what makes news. By
limited value to the women's movement portraying women politicians as an
in Uganda. Affirmative action is merely aberration, or as intruders into the serious
a necessary first step toward the difficult domain of politics, they perpetuate the
road to transformative action that allows gendered public/private divide. These
for a democracy with a wider base. ideologies are internalised by the public,
creating and fuelling feelings of resentment
Gender issues faced by towards women who participate in formal
Ugandan women MPs politics.

Despite the increase in the number of Sexual harassment of

female politicians in Uganda, I found in
my research that it is still extremely
women MPs
difficult for women to achieve political My research revealed that sexual harass-
autonomy. Gender inequality affects the ment was an issue that most women
social interactions of male and female legislators had to deal with on a day-to-day
legislators, and remains an integral part of basis. However, many female politicians
the parliamentary institutional framework did not regard the repetitive sexual remarks
(Tamale 1999).6 Female politicians face directed at them as problems, let alone
African women claiming their space in parliament 13

constituting sexual harassment. 'Brushing it That women MPs are working in an

off, both literally and mentally, was the environment where their status as
method adopted by almost all victims of 'honourable' MPs is at best precarious is
sexual harassment in my study. Even the powerfully demonstrated in the experience
most radical feminists among the female of another informant in my study:
legislators I interviewed adopted passive
Akwasi: One time I went over to say hello to a
methods of dealing with it, and did not
male colleague. I don't know, maybe I caught
consider it serious enough to warrant court
him at a bad time ... maybe he had had other
or other retaliatory action. Even in those things on his mind (chuckles nervously) and
cases where a male colleague went as far then he sort of grabbed me here (points to her
as making physical contact of a sexual crotch). I was shocked, I literally went down on
nature, the women legislators either my knees. I said, 'Please, please, I have a lot of
blamed themselves for it, or simply respect for you' ... But I wasn't angry; I
ignored it. Below are two examples from thought maybe it was my mistake, maybe I took
my research. him for granted. I just learnt a lesson that time
Akiiki 7 : They do all kinds of funny things - that sometimes you have to be careful with
(laughter). I don't even know where to begin men ...By nature they can misbehave simply
(sighs)... This guy, you know he calls me into by the way you present yourself.
his office one day, he asks his secretary to bring
The attitudes and reactions reported here
some coffee, blah, blah, blah and we talk. The
are by no means unique - they echo many
conversation is going nowhere so I say, 'OK,
other studies of sexual harassment in
thank you, bye-bye.' So he gets up to open the
working environments elsewhere. In the
door for me and ... (illustrates by grabbing
course of their work, women also have to
her left breast with both hands)
deal with the psychological anguish,
Sylvia: Oh my God, really?
feelings of belittlement, and increased
Akiiki: Ah-huh, I couldn't believe it, you can
self-consciousness occasioned by sexual
imagine such a thing. All of them are the same.
harassment. But in this case, the legislative
Sylvia: What did you do?
work of female MPs is ultimately affected.
Akiiki: 7 just brushed off his arm and walked
Such experiences may, in part, explain the
out. (Laughs.)
apparent reticence and diffidence that
The key issue here is in the MP's generally characterises Ugandan women
contradictory statements: she could not parliamentarians on the chamber floor.
believe what her male colleague did to her,
yet she concedes that it is commonplace Conclusion
when she adds, 'all of them are the same'.
This indicates that she could not believe The unprecedented presence of women in
that a 'respectable' fellow parliamentarian Uganda's parliament has had a significant
would treat her in as base a manner as influence on the political landscape of the
'other' men outside parliament would. country. In particular, it has resulted in a
Forgetting that sexual harassment shifting of political sites and a relocation of
is a standard way of objectifying women in power (albeit slight), spurring a new kind
order to maintain power and control over of political self-organisation for Ugandan
them, this female legislator thought that women. However, my research suggests
her personal attributes and status as an MP that the right of women to participate in
would protect her. Yet to her male politics as autonomous actors is still greatly
colleagues, first and foremost she was a curtailed in both overt and covert ways.
woman. Her parliamentarian role was only Inequality between women and men,
secondary. together with the poverty that is the result

of Uganda's under-developed economy, transformation of existing political

constrains the performance of women structures. But as my research and that of
legislators. Cultural norms that associate others have revealed, patriarchy is not
men with the public and political entirely constraining; it has some elements
arenas, and women with the private and that can be exploited by women to improve
domestic arenas, operate to perpetuate the their standing. Inspiration can be taken
status quo. These norms shape unequal from the new breeze that is blowing across
gender power relations within state our fair continent. That breeze brings with
institutions. There is a risk that affirmative it the potential for positive change. And as I
action may be a hollow victory, which has state in my book, When Hens Begin to Crow,
little potential to shatter the institutional the chant of crowing hens will one day
aspects of sexism in Uganda. reverberate around the four corners of
The importance of a strong women's Africa.
movement to back up women who hold
public office is especially important in Sylvia Tamale is a lecturer in the Faculty of
ensuring that they are aware of the need Law, Makerere University, PO Box 7062,
to reconstruct political structures according Kampala, Uganda.
to feminist principles (Bystydzienski 1992). E-mail:
But while not all Ugandan female
politicians are gender-sensitive, I would
confidently state that the majority of Notes
women MPs in my country pursue 1. This article is based on a paper delivered
'women's issues' both inside and outside at Indaba99, 'Women's Voices, Gender,
the legislative assembly halls. The work of Books and Development', Zimbabwe
female politicians in Uganda is in many International Book Fair, Harare, 1999.
ways a reflection of the constraints and 2. African women are not a homogenous
contradictions arising out of a patriarchal group. Despite the common heritage
socio-political setting existing in a derived from colonialism, economic
peripheral area of the global economy. On exploitation, and racism, there are wide
the one hand, traditional gender roles and variations in the ways that these have
basic issues relating to daily survival give impacted on individual women in
shape to their political work. On the other, different regions and communities.
their contradictory status as marginalised 3. This study was part of my Ph.D. thesis
women in positions of power sets them research at the University of Minnesota
apart from the masses of Ugandan women. and is also the basis of my book,
It is these very contradictions that are likely When Hens Begin to Crow: Gender and
to foster further action for social change Parliamentary Politics in Uganda
by female legislators; the sense of (Westview Press, 1999).
incongruities for these women is bound 4. It is important to note, however, that
to precipitate into a particular form of education appropriate for engaging in
political consciousness. politics was not accessible to most
The struggle for women's emancipation African men, either - only a select group,
in African politics is a difficult one. including sons of chiefs and other
Eliminating hostility to women in senior notables, received it, in certain colonial
political positions will be a painstakingly administrations.
slow process. It will take public education 5. There were exceptions such as northern
and awareness-raising, and the attainment Nigeria where women gained the vote in
of equal numbers of women and men in 1976,16 years after formal independence
national politics as well as the radical (Howard 1985, 292; Geiger 1990, 228).
African women claiming their space in parliament 15

6. By gender, I refer to the social and Mba, N. (1982), Nigerian Women Mobilized:
cultural construction that shapes Women's Political Activity in Southern
feminine and masculine identities and Nigeria, 1900-1965, Berkeley: Institute of
roles. And because gender exerts a International Studies, University of
major effect on individual lives and California.
social interactions, many feminists now Okonjo, K. (1976), 'The dual sex political
view it as a social institution in and of system in operation: Igbo women and
itself (West and Zimmerman 1987; community politics in midwestern
Lorber 1994). Nigeria', in N. Hafkin and E. Bay (eds),
7.1 use pseudonyms in this article in order Women in Africa: Studies in Social and
to protect the confidentiality of Economic Change, Stanford CA: Stanford
informants. University Press.
Rogers, S. (1980), 'Anti-colonial protest in
Africa: a female strategy reconsidered',
References Heresies, 3(l):22-25.
Agorsah, K. (1990), 'Women in African Schmidt, E. (1991), 'Patriarchy, capitalism,
traditional polities', Journal of Legal and the colonial state in Zimbabwe',
Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 30:77-86. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and
Amadiume, I. (1987), Male Daughters, Society, 16(4):732-56.
Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in Stamp, P. (1975-76), 'Perceptions of change
African Society, London: Zed Books. and economic strategy among Kikuyu
Byanyima, W.K. (1992), 'Women in political women of Mitero, Kenya', Rural Africana,
struggle in Uganda', in J. Bystydzienski 29:19-43.
(ed.), Women Transforming Politics: Staudt, K. (1981), 'Women's politics in
World-wide Strategies for Empowerment. Africa', Studies in Third World Societies,
Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 16:1-28.
Bystydzienski, J. (1992), 'Influence of Staudt, K. (1989), 'The state and gender in
women's culture on public politics in colonial Africa', in S. Charlton, J. Everett,
Norway', in J. Bystydzienski (ed.), and K. Staudt (eds), Women, the State and
Women Transforming Politics: World-wide Development, Albany: State University of
Strategies for Empowerment. Bloomington: New York Press.
Indiana University Press. Strobel, M. (1982), 'African women: review
Chazan, Naomi, Robert Mortimer, John essay', Signs 8(l):109-31.
Ravenhill and Donald Rothchild (eds) Tamale, S. (1999), When Hens Begin to Crow:
(1988), Politics and Society in Gender and Parliamentary Politics in
Contemporary Africa, Boulder, CO: Uganda, Boulder CO: Westview Press.
Lynne Rienner Publishers. United Nations (1996), Platform for Action
Geiger, S. (1990), 'Women and African and the Beijing Declaration, New York:
nationalism', Journal of Women's History, UN Department of Public Information.
2(l):227-44. Weis, L. (1980), 'Women and education in
Hafkin, N. and E. Bay (eds) (1976), Women Ghana: some problems of assessing
in Africa: Studies in Social and Economic change', International Journal of Women's
Change, Stanford CA: Stanford University Studies, 3(5):431-53.
Press. Wipper, A. (1975), 'The Maendeleo Ya
MacKinnon, C. (1979), Sexual Harassment of Wanawake organisation: the co-optation
Working Women, New Haven: Yale of leadership', African Studies Review,
University Press. 18(3):99-120.

From palm tree to

training women for political leadership
and public life
Lesley Abdela
Over the past two decades, I have worked in the field of developing women's political leadership in
over 30 countries. In this article, I define what I mean by women's leadership, why I think there is a
need to develop it, and the methods and tools that I have used to achieve this, in several different
initiatives. At present, I am Chief Executive of Project Parity,1 an NGO established in 1996. Project
Parity aims to achieve an equal proportion of women and men in political and public life, who share
leadership and decision-making, to create a stable and peaceful, yet progressive, democracy.
In its work, it uses tools, training techniques and insights gained from my involvement with
two other organisations - Eyecatcher Associates2 and Shevolution.3

'... members of a local branch of the 100 Group What is leadership? A dictionary
Network confronted a wife beater who headed definition of a leader is: 'a person who
up a palm tree. He was forced down into the rules, guides, or inspires others' (Collins
midst of the women, and he then had to promise English Dictionary 1979). An alternative
that he would never ever again hit his wife.' definition is someone who is invested with
(Progress report of the 100 Group Network 'formal or informal authority by others -
for women's political leadership, Nigeria.) regardless of the values they represent'
(Heifetz 1951, 13). My personal addition to
these definitions is that a leader is a person

believe that women and men working
in equal partnership in politics and who has the ability to mobilise others.
public life would lead to a quantum The leaders acknowledged in formal
shift in the way different countries and historic records are almost all men, with a
different ethnic groups relate to each other. few notable exceptions. Some women - for
With equal partnership between male and example, the Queen Mothers in Ghana,
female leaders, I believe that human Queen Elizabeth of the UK, Queen Beatrix
relationships would then be less about of the Netherlands - have inherited
trying to dominate each other, and more significant leadership roles by virtue of
about finding ways to relate to each other, descent. When it comes to elections, the
to co-operate, and to interact, for mutual first elected women leaders often carry a
benefit. Many of the injustices faced by famous political family name. In these
women and minority groups never reach cases, dynasty sometimes over-rides
the top of the list of priorities for politicians gender. Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in
and public officials at present, and will not Pakistan and President Cori Aquino in the
do so until there are a sufficient number of Philippines are examples. Benazir Bhutto is
women in positions of leadership. the daughter of a previous Prime Minister,
Training women for political leadership and public life 17

and Cori Aquino is the widow of a former In India, the 1993 Raj Panchayat Act created
President. one million elected women members of
The common denominators of leader- local councils and chairs of local council
ship are status and influence. Democratic committees. Over 30 per cent of elected
leaders are expected to respond to the members of parliament are female in
influence of their followers, as well as to Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark,
influence their followers. In a democracy, Iceland, Germany, Netherlands, Scotland,
leaders have made a bargain with their and South Africa.In New Zealand the Prime
followers in order to be elected: through Minister and leader of the main opposition
voting for them, the electorate allows them party are women, and 29 per cent of MPs are
to gain power for a period of time. female. In Sweden there are more female
In contrast to becoming a leader by than male government ministers.
virtue of descent or being elected into In many other countries, women
office, a leader may be the most influential continue to be almost entirely absent from
member of a popular movement, operating the debating chambers and most political
with little if any formal authority. They may decision-making and policy-making
not have been elected or appointed in a committees. It seems, too, that almost
formal institution but either have been every discussion on politics in the media
elected in an informal movement or is dominated by men. This male bias
somehow emerged as leader of the pack. excludes women from everyday politics.
This is the form of leadership where women Data on the current proportion of
leaders often emerge: for example, Millicent women in parliaments around the world
Fawcett and Emmeline Pankhurst, leaders of has been compiled by the Inter-
the British women's suffrage movement at Parliamentary Union, on the basis of
the start of the twentieth century, and information provided by national parlia-
Wangari Maathai, leader of the Green Belt ments. One hundred and seventy-seven
Movement in Kenya. The void left by the countries are classified in descending order
lack of democratic participatory political according to the percentage of women
opportunities for women has often been in either the lower or the single house.
filled by 'wife-ism' or 'first lady syndrome',Out of a total of 40,052 MPs, the data give
whereby the wives of political leaders the sex of 36,557 members. There are 31,505
become women leaders as a result of their men and 5,052 women. The percentage
marital status. of women is, therefore, 13.8 per cent
(http:\ \
Women in political Lack of women in political decision-
making results in government that ignores
leadership roles - even disdains - what women want and
There are still fewer women than men need. Until women achieve numbers in
leaders in contexts where leaders are legislatures far nearer parity, all advances
elected, but in a number of countries, in the in equality between women and men must
past two decades, the number of women be viewed as extremely fragile. Even in
elected to local councils or national contexts where advances have been fought
parliaments has increased. In 1979, for and eventually won after decades and
Margaret Thatcher became the first woman centuries, they can easily be stolen if
Prime Minister in the UK. She was one of women are not participating fully and
only 19 women, out of a total of 635 equally in government and political life.
members of parliament (MPs). Now, in the The Platform for Action agreed at the
year 2000, there are 123 women MPs in Fourth United Nations Conference for
the UK, as a result of affirmative action. Women in Beijing in 1995 links women's

lack of political participation to their variants, and solutions must be developed

continuing economic marginalisation, and and applied for particular circumstances,
to abuses of their human rights. The idea I have found that there are many
that it is necessary and desirable to have similarities on which generalised solutions
a significant number of women leaders in can be developed, and then modified for
politics and public life has blossomed local needs. In February 2000,1 was invited
in the past 50 years, in parallel with to Cameroon by the British Council and
the spreading of Western notions of Plan International, the international NGO.
representational democracy as a political Over a ten-day period, I met individuals
philosophy. Democracy is not democracy and groups in interviews, discussions, and
when over half the population are not fully workshops: about 500 people in all.
represented. Participants were women, men, and
In the past two decades, in the poorest children from all strata of society, including
countries of the world, economic senior politicians, teachers, doctors and
restructuring programmes, agreed by nurses, lawyers, NGO leaders,
male-dominated governments and male- development workers, farmers, market
led international organisations, have hit traders, and trade unionists. A key part of
women hardest. In terms of women's civil the research was to explore the obstacles
rights, only 44 countries have laws against preventing women from taking leader-ship
domestic violence, 17 countries have made roles in Cameroon. Stereotyped
marital rape a criminal offence, and 27 assumptions are often behind decisions not
countries have passed laws on sexual to restructure the political arena to suit
harassment. In far too many countries, women's needs, or entrust women with
violence against women and sexual leadership roles.
harassment is considered 'normal'. In a
number of countries, male politicians and 'Women do not want to be in politics or
traditional and religious leaders block laws to be leaders'
that would give women the right to inherit I was told repeatedly by men that there are
land. Their decisions keep millions of no Cameroonian women interested in
women in a poverty trap. Without land or taking part in political life. The most
other assets, women have no hard effective strategy for any group attempting
collateral when they need bank loans. This to retain power over another group is to
lack of access to credit presents an make the disparity seem to be the natural
impenetrable barrier to women traders and order of things. For thousands of years,
entrepreneurs who wish to start up, or politics and public life have primarily been
expand, in business. Lack of property and perceived as 'a man's game'. Stereotyped
money also means women have no power assumptions are often behind decisions
to flee violent husbands, or to exercise not to include women. What are termed
control over their fertility and sexual 'old boys' networks' in the English-
health. speaking world are powerful influences on
the selection of candidates for local and
national politics. These networks exist
The barriers to women's between men with shared interests and
backgrounds. In addition, traditional male
leadership: men's and leaders, including chiefs and religious
women's views leaders, have a great influence in some
What insights can be gained from working countries on the choice of political
in many different contexts on women's candidates. Contrary to men's beliefs,
leadership issues? While there are always Cameroonian women told me that they do
Training women for political leadership and public life 19

want leadership positions. It was not with a local organisation, Gender and
women's willingness to be included at all Development Action (GADA). The work-
levels of decision-making in political and shops, entitled 'Training for Women in
public life which was lacking, but fair Public Life', were the brainchild of Nigerian
candidate selection procedures. Candidate women working with the British Council.
selection procedures within political parties We learned that the handful of Nigerian
present a barrier in many countries to women who have competed for political
would-be women politicians. Typical positions in previous elections were
comments from women in Cameroon 4 separated by geography and ethnicity,
included: 'We want to get elected to local often fighting lonely battles in the face of
councils and parliament, some of us have entrenched male opposition and unjust
tried but we find that the men in our electoral practices. In Nigeria, before the
parties block us. Men are egoistic. The men military dictatorships, Nigerian women
don't accept us on the party list. If they do had a long history of leading activism.
accept women, they put them in the lower
positions where they cannot get elected.' 'We don't want women commanding us'
In some countries, this is changing, as Some men felt that voters in Cameroon
governments and NGOs try to increase the need to be educated to accept women in
number of women in politics and public politics. Women were seen as mothers and
life in response to the Beijing Platform carers and were not usually seen in
of Action. decision-making positions at community
'There are no capable women'
I heard many comments from men along 'Women may not be prepared to play the
these lines. Men told me that Cameroonian same game'
women might not be able to do the job of a Some felt that women should be kept out
Member of Parliament, that women are not of politics because they are likely to
ready, and that there are insufficient behave more ethically than men! One man
numbers of educated women. Women in Cameroon, who was critical of corruption
agreed with these comments, but tended to in politics, explained his reasons for
stress the need for training to ensure that supporting women in politics: 'Many male
they overcame this obstacle. I was told: politicians are interested in "the politics of
'We want to get to the point where we can the stomach". They don't want women
consult at the same level as a man'; entering politics because women may get in
'Women don't have status, confidence, the way. Women may not be prepared to
dignity or a position in society within play the same game.'
which she can stand and defend her rights';
and 'The key obstacle women face is the
method of choosing candidates.' Developing a holistic
In countries where non-democratic
systems have operated, there may be The obstacles perceived by Cameroonian
few role models for aspiring women women and men, outlined above, are
politicians to emulate. Countries ruled by echoed in other country contexts. Most of
the military are particularly likely to the threads are common to both Western
present problems for women, since the countries and 'developing' countries alike.
military as an institution is not partici- At the same time as urging, training,
patory in nature, and is male-dominated. and encouraging more women to put
In 1996, Project Parity conducted a series themselves forward for leadership
of workshops in Nigeria, in partnership positions, organisations that promote

women's political leadership must play a Working for women's

part in reforming the existing power leadership: our strategies
structures. This means working with the
following target groups in a holistic To sum up, there are three areas where
approach: politicians (both male and attention is needed:
female); women leaders of NGOs and 1. Equipping future women leaders with
community groups; community develop- skills, knowledge, and confidence, to
ment workers; and next-generation leaders. empower those women who want to
'Shevolution' is a word I invented to come forward and take an active role in
describe what needs to happen, to result in politics and public life. This is a key
societies where women's and men's talents component both in terms of helping
operate equally, and political systems then individuals who are already involved
produce policies and programmes that in breaking the mould, and in terms
are fair to both women and men. This of attracting and encouraging new
would mean looking at every process, women to get involved who may have
policy, every activity and programme, on been put off by intimidating odds
the basis of how it meets the needs of against success.
women and men. If you track this back, it 2. Changing the technical impediments to
means consulting with both women and women's progress, such as laws and
men right from the planning stage. structures (for example, property laws,
Our work aims to: inheritance laws, electoral systems,
encourage more women to come voting laws, selection procedures, and
forward and take an active role in so on).
politics at local, regional, municipal, 3. Changing the gender culture of the
and national levels; systems and structures in the political
train potential women candidates and and public arenas, so that women and
their campaign teams in the skills and men can work successfully within them.
understanding of democratic politics - Strategies include gender awareness
this includes candidates for parliament, training for men and women in the
as well as local, regional, and municipal media, international missions, NGOs,
government and mayoral candidates; and political parties; training for
help change the culture and systems in women's groups and NGOs working
political parties and the media to help with women on topics such as lobbying,
politics to become 'woman-friendly'; advocacy, and communication skills;
increase public awareness about the workshops challenging the way the
importance of including women at all media cover women in politics, or
levels of decision-making in politics; challenging the public's preconceptions
help build and develop non-party- of women in politics; considering the
aligned NGO groups similar to the timing of meetings to see if they are
British 300 Group (discussed below), to family-friendly, and so on.
ensure a continuation of our activities
for getting more women elected to The 300 Group: 'growing
parliament and local councils, and as
mayors. These groups, working with your own'
women and men in the media, NGOs, The same year as Margaret Thatcher took
and political parties, would continue the the premiership in the UK, I founded the
promotion of parity democracy. 300 Group,5 a UK-based NGO which aimed
to increase the number of women elected to
local councils and parliament in the UK.
Training women for political leadership and public life 21

The approach we used was informed by In 1995, Tim Symonds and I set up a new
my background in marketing. We tried a European-based NGO, Project Parity, with
two-pronged strategy of stimulating a Baroness Williams of Crosby as its
'market demand' for more women in President, to continue the work of the 300
politics and public life, and at the same Group of 'growing' future women leaders,
time ensuring a steady supply of good but this time on a global basis. The goals
quality 'products', by offering highly of women's leadership and what I term
practical training workshops for women 'parity democracy' are indivisible.6 In short,
would-be politicians. This way of working in addition to developing the capacity of
has since been adapted, according to local individual women to become leaders, and
cultures and conditions, for use in many supporting them in their goal, reform of
countries, including Ghana, Japan, Romania, the political system is also needed, to
Nigeria, and the Ukraine. ensure that the voice of the entire electorate
The lengthy process of trying to is heard in government. The experience
stimulate demand for women in politics gained in the 300 Group is now reflected in
involved strategies including 'texturing' the the work of Project Parity in different
views of the media, the public, and the contexts around the world.
(mainly male) opinion leaders in political The Nigerian 100 Group Network is one
parties to welcome, and even to start to example of how we have learnt new ideas
demand, more women in decision-making and success-stories from partner groups
and leadership roles. This is done through and participants to share with other
a number of awareness-raising activities, countries. In 1996, sponsored by the British
meetings, and events. Ensuring the Council in Nigeria, we conducted a series
'products' entailed working with women of workshops in Kaduna, Enugu, and
who wished to enter politics and public life, Ijebu-Ode, near Lagos, in partnership with
but for whom these were often uncharted Nkoyo Toyo and her team from GADA
territories. The 300 Group workshops were (Gender and Development Action, part of
held in different areas of the UK; women the Abantu network). My co-trainer was
from all backgrounds were encouraged to Franciska Issaka, of CENSUDI (the Centre
come forward as potential candidates, and for Sustainable Initiatives), Ghana. The
received training intended to develop their touring workshops in Nigeria were entitled
skills, confidence, knowledge of key issues, 'Training for Women in Public Life' and
and understanding of how the system were the brainchild of Nigerian women
works in democratic politics and public life. working with Andrea Murray (Gender
The workshops were open to participants Office, The British Council).7 Participants
who supported political parties across the came from different political parties and
political spectrum - including women who NGOs, and were of diverse ethnic and
were already members of those parties - as geographic origins, and religions.
well as to women who did not have a As a direct result of these workshops,
loyalty to any political party. The 300 Nigerian women launched the 100 Group,
Group also provided valuable informal which aimed at emulating the aims of the
support and encouragement. 300 Group, preparing women around
When we started the 300 Group, the Nigeria for involvement in democratic
words 'women's leadership' were not in political activity. However, unlike the 300
our vocabulary. Rather, we talked about Group, the 100 Group is a network not an
the 'representation' of women. It was not NGO. The idea was hatched at a fringe
until the early 1990s that I began to notice meeting organised by our Nigerian
the phrase 'women's leadership' - which colleagues one evening during the Enugu
originated in North America - being used. workshop. Approximately three women

from each of Nigeria's states had attended political parties, who adopted five of the
our workshops. Each of these teams women participants and included them on
pledged to go back to their home territory the formal nominees' lists of candidates.
and seek out 100 women with whom they Other participants who are not selected for
would share what they had learned. The this election hope to become candidates in
plan was that these women in turn would the following election.
be asked to seek out a further 100 women.
By harnessing women's existing con-
nections with individuals and fellow Lessons learned
members of organisations, this training Challenging orthodoxies
session resulted in the development of a We have learned that it is important
network with 300 branches, potentially sometimes to have the courage to challenge
reaching three million women. accepted development orthodoxies. It is
fine for funders to set their objectives and
key areas, but the world is a complex place
What have we learned? and rarely falls into neatly separate
It is too soon to estimate the long-term doctrines, categories, and departments.
results of our work. Follow-up evaluations
at five or ten year intervals will also need Capacity-building for sustainability
considerable funding. To date, I and my We have learned that one of the best ways
colleagues have heard about the results for women to develop their skills,
by chance; for example, thank-you letters confidence, and solutions as leaders, is by
have arrived out of the blue from women living the action for themselves - we can
who have been appointed to senior posts in help the gardeners to develop their skills
government or elsewhere, and chance and provide them with the appropriate
meetings with women at international tools, but have learned that home-grown
conferences have informed us about tomatoes taste the best! Most of our
changes that have taken place in countries training is short, sharp bursts of intensive
where we have worked. Following a skills training, information inputs, and
workshop in Cyprus in October 1998, assistance with designing short-term,
President Clerides appointed two women medium-term, and long-term action
to top public leadership posts which had strategies. Part of this is due to the necessity
never been held before by women, and at of funding constraints, but part is by
least two political parties in Cyprus design. We want to empower individuals
introduced a quota system to increase with skills, ideas, and motivation. The best
the number of women candidates for way for them to develop their skills and
elections. In July 2000, an Election solutions and implement them is by living
Campaign Workshop for 17 women the action for themselves.
candidates and their campaign managers in
Cairo was conducted by the consultancy Avoid endless training
Shevolution, working in partnership with If you are helping develop women leaders,
the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights, a it is crucial to take active steps to link
Cairo-based civil organisation. This training directly to participants taking
workshop focused on developing skills for leadership roles in causing action for
women participating in an election change. It is very important not to fall into
campaign. Following the workshop, the the trap of what I call the 'comfort zone':
Egyptian National Council for Women training women to train women to train
made contact with all the participants and women to train women. Many people who
approached relevant governors and contribute to identifying problems do not
Training women for political leadership and public life 23

feel comfortable and willing to implement changing negative attitudes towards

solutions. The talkers have a role to play as women leaders on the part of political
well as the 'do-ers', but it is important to parties, governments, the media, and the
identify the motivators and the active public. The working culture and systems
implementers. Without the do-ers, action of political parties and governments need
won't happen. to reflect this change in attitudes.
Leadership training and development
Who funds the promotion of women's can play a vital role in correcting the
political leadership? imbalances that exist in power structures
We are often asked to carry out work on a internationally in this area.
budget that is far too low for the amount of
time and resources needed if it is to be Lesley Abdela can be contacted at 46 Portland
done properly. Working to develop Place, London WIN 3DG UK.
'women leaders' is certainly a worthy E-mail:;
cause, but does it not deserve proper tel +44 20 76311545;
financial investment, rather than a few mobile tel +44 7967 650 155.
crumbs from the global aid budget? It is
symbolic that in post-conflict contexts, such Notes
as present-day Kosovo, huge sums of
money are put into re-training de-mobbed 1 More information can be found on Project
fighters (mainly male), compared to the Parity at http:/ /www.shevolution. com
small amounts of money made available to 2 Eyecatcher Associates is a business
train women leaders, who are equally partnership started by Lesley Abdela
needed to develop stable future democratic and Tim Symonds in 1985. It specialises
societies (personal observation, Kosovo in journalism, consultancy, training, and
1999). Separately, we frequently receive strategic development reports.
requests for assistance to work on excellent 3 Shevolution is a consultancy wing of
and sensible proposals, but are not always Eyecatcher. Shevolution specialises in
in a position to apply for funding for them. developing solutions for empowering
When we do, it is often the case that women.
hinders cannot respond quickly enough. 4 Identities are kept anonymous on these
needs-assessment missions, so people
can speak more freely.
Conclusion 5 More information can be found at
To solve the many problems facing us all, http:/ /
the world needs to be able to draw from the 6 Parity democracy is a democratic system
whole pool of talents available to it - both where the number of women leaders
women and men. Women are under- present is at least proportionate to the
represented in leadership positions in female electorate.
politics and public life throughout the 7 The British Council, Gender -
world at all levels, from the 'palm-tree' http:/ /
community level to parliament. We have governance / gendev / index.htm
learned that getting a few more women
elected or appointed to leadership and
decision-making positions is not enough, if References
the systems and political culture are still Heifetz, R. (1951), Leadership Without Easy
primarily designed for men. We have Answers, Harvard University Press.
found it is not enough just to train women Kline, N. (undated), Women and Power:
as leaders without also working on How Far Can We Go?, BBC Publications.

Towards realistic strategies

for women's political
empowerment in Africa1
Sara Hlupekile Longwe
Current NGO and development agency strategies to support women's political empowerment are
based on two assumptions: firstly, that women's increased access to resources, especially education,
will lead to their increased representation in political positions; and secondly, that governments are
genuinely committed to leading national programmes of action for women's advancement. Both of
these assumptions are seriously mistaken. All development organisations supporting women's
empowerment must recognise the true obstacles women face in gaining political power, and develop
programme strategies to overcome them. In addition to focusing on the need to get women into
government, NGOs could also usefully support women's organisations that are engaging in direct
action -a key strategy which enables women to push for policy changes from outside government.

that women have lower levels of literacy

he Beijing Platform for Action, the
outcome of the United Nations and education; that they are not self-
Fourth Conference on Women, held confident and assertive, and lack
in 1995, has at its centre a call for women's leadership qualities; that they are inactive
increased political empowerment - in other at the grassroots level of politics; and that
words, women's increased participation in they do not put themselves forward as
decision-making at both the domestic and candidates. These 'reasons' commonly form
public levels, in order to bring about the basis for intervention strategies to
gender equality in the distribution of increase women's empowerment. Thus,
resources. We have yet to see the programmes for women's advancement
development of serious programmes to commonly focus on girls' education, while
achieve this overall goal. Women are programmes aiming to increase women's
grossly under-represented in parliaments representation in parliament focus on
in most countries worldwide, and in the leadership training, and encouraging more
political administrative levels of govern- women to stand as candidates.
ment. In Africa, the proportion of women If there is one common factor in the
in decision-making positions is very low. above reasons advanced for women's lack
The average percentage of women in of presence in politics, and the strategies
parliament is 8.7 per cent, and the developed in response, it is that they all
proportion varies from 29 per cent in arise from the perspective that women
South Africa to 0 per cent in Djibouti themselves are lacking in some way. They
(Inter-Parliamentary Union 1999).2 are not educated enough! They are not
Many reasons for the small proportion confident enough! They are not
of women in government are offered by the experienced enough! This is blaming the
press, politicians, and development victim.
organisations. Typical reasons given are
Towards realistic strategies for women's political empowerment in Africa 25

Women's education does Sweden (43 per cent) is the result of

not lead to political Swedish women's high level of education
(57 per cent of university students are
empowerment female). However, a high proportion of
Of all the reasons given for women's lack of women amongst university students is
representation in political structures, the common across Europe, but a high pro-
most widely believed is their 'lack of portion of women in parliament is most
education'. However, there is absolutely no uncommon. In former Yugoslavia, women
evidence to support this assumption. On constitute 55 per cent of university students
the contrary, there is plenty of evidence but only five per cent of parliament.
that it is incorrect, and therefore the inter- Such inter-country comparisons suggest
vention strategies of increased education that increasing women's general level of
for girls are entirely misplacedas a means education, relative to men, will not increase
towards increasing women's empowerment. their proportion in parliament. While it is
The plain fact is that the overall pattern for true that increased education will help
Africa shows absolutely no correlation individual women get into parliament,
between the percentage of women in and it may be the case that most female
university in a particular country, and the members of parliament are educated above
percentage of women in parliament, or in the average level of women in a country,
the higher levels of government. There is this merely indicates that an increased level
no correlation, either, between African of education gives a woman an advantage
countries' percentage of women in primary over her sisters in getting into parliament.
education and the percentage of women in This potential for individual advancement
parliament, nor between women's level of does not bring with it any collective
secondary education and the percentage of advantage for women, relative to men.
women in parliament. While it is easy enough to show that the
Taking the example of my home correlation between women in parliament
country of Zambia, which is fairly typical and high educational attainment does not
of Southern Africa, about 25 per cent of exist, it is more difficult to counter the
the students at the University of Zambia, notion that women lack self-confidence and
established 30 years ago, have been women. interest in politics. It is not possible to
During this time about 8,000 female obtain facts and figures on these. But
graduates have been produced. However, judging by my experience of grassroots
to date, only 11 per cent of parliamentarians women in Africa, it seems quite ridiculous
are women: that is, 16 women in a to claim that women are lacking in self-
parliament of 150. In Malawi, the disparity confidence or assertiveness. On the
between highly-educated women and contrary, women in Africa tend to be
women in parliament is rather larger: 40 highly self-reliant, which demands
per cent of university students are women, confidence. Many work as traders, or run
but only five per cent of members of other small businesses; there is a high
parliament. In Algeria, women in parliament proportion of female-headed households in
make up only three per cent of total Africa - one-third of all households on
members, but amongst university students 41 average, and up to 60 per cent in some
per cent are women (UNESCO 1999). areas of Southern Africa (an effect of the
The same lack of correlation between effects of migratory male labour in
women's education and their represen- particular) (SARDC 1999,110). In Africa the
tation in parliament is true for Europe. farmers are mostly women, producing 80
It is commonly assumed that the high per cent of basic foodstuffs for subsistence
percentage of women in parliament in and sale (FAO website, 1999).

Discrimination against UNIP have compartmentalised women's

women in politics: political activity into a separate 'Women's
League', which serves to divert women to a
the hidden agenda subordinate and supportive role (personal
Coming to women's participation in communications and observation, 2000).
grassroots politics, my own experience of At the community (branch) level of the
Zambia is in sharp contradiction to the political parties, the branch committee is
claim that women do not participate. typically composed almost entirely of men,
Community-level meetings of political with one place reserved for a woman
parties commonly attract more women from the 'Women's League' of the party.
than men. However, at higher levels, Men hold the controlling positions of
women are in the minority. Chair, Secretary and Treasurer. These
Much of this situation arises from the male-dominated committees hold the key
inculcation and acceptance of gender for the selection of candidates for election
discrimination at an early age, where girls to both higher positions in the party, and
are socialised to believe that public for state elections to local government and
decision-making positions should properly parliament.
be occupied by men, and boys are
socialised into believing that girls
'Dirty tricks' against
may legitimately be excluded. Boys and
girls are socialised at home, and later at women would-be leaders
school, to believe that men should be the While the absence of women is very visible,
heads of households and communities, and the reasons for their absence are often
that wives should play a subordinate, hidden. A few years ago, I attended a
supportive, and domestic role (Longwe 1998). workshop for female local government
In adulthood, women are pressurised councillors in Zambia. There were only
further by their husbands, families, and 26 women councillors amongst a total of
relatives not to disgrace the family by 1,300! I heard women's own analysis of the
going into politics, which is an inappro- real reasons for the small proportion of
priate role in the public sphere. Rather, women amongst the councillors, and in
most are urged to stay at home, to 'look politics more generally. I heard women's
after the family'. Where a woman tries to descriptions of the 'dirty tricks' played
step outside this domestic ambit, the men against those who seek political office.
of the family and the community are likely Their account of their experiences should
to act collectively to push the woman back be enough to dispel any assumption that
into her 'proper' domestic place. male-dominated political parties in Africa,
In Zambia, although there are likely to or elsewhere, are likely to support or
be more women than men attending party produce policies and prog-rammes for
meetings, it is the men who hold almost all women's empowerment.3
the official positions in the party down to The women councillors at the workshop
the lowest levels. This general pattern of were clearly the few survivors of a 'hidden
male domination of official party posts agenda' to keep women out of political
holds true for all the current political positions. They told me that it is not lack of
parties in Zambia: the (ruling) Movement leadership skills that holds women back,
for Multi-Party Democracy (MMD), the but opposition from men. Zambian women
(formerly ruling) United National who have dared to put their names
Independence Party (UNIP), and the forward for selection for nomination in
(recently formed) United Party for National political parties, or as candidates in
Development (UPND). Both MMD and national elections, have been subjected to a
Towards realistic strategies for women's political empowerment in Africa 27

wide range of dirty tricks. For example, in are intended to make clear to women
the 1991 Zambian general elections, women politicians that they are not wanted in the
were given wrong information about 'men's game', that they are out of place,
where and how to register as a candidate, and that they should get out.
and many failed to lodge their election papers I do not doubt that many readers are
for this reason (personal experience, 1991). familiar with the pattern of dirty tricks I
The women councillors reported that have described above in the context of
many women who had been successful in Zambia, and could add further examples
getting nominated for election at the from their own context and experience.
grassroots (branch) level of the party were It is this discrimination by dirty tricks that
subsequently 'weeded out' at the higher is the main underlying reason for women's
levels of selection (ward, constituency, lack of participation in politics at high
provincial, and national levels). Where levels, rather than the respectable but
women do succeed in being selected as bogus excuses of women's lack of
candidates, political parties are more likely education, or lack of confidence.
to assign them to wards or constituencies
where the party is not strong, and male
candidates to the 'safer seats'.
The failure of policies for
In the small proportion of cases where
'women's advancement'
women succeeded against all the odds in Why do I call such discrimination against
getting themselves advanced as party women in politics a 'hidden agenda', since
candidates in a national election, they still it is so obvious? Because most of us - even
faced further dirty tricks to prevent them women working to promote the leadership
being elected into office. If a married of women - pretend it is not there. It is the
woman stands as a candidate, voters are nasty, sordid, underhand aspect of male-
told that any decisions she takes were biased government, which we would prefer
controlled by her husband, and that they not to know about. It is
are really voting for the husband. Women all those things that are not supposed to be
at the workshop told me that they knew of happening.
this claim being made during intra-party Both Uganda and South Africa have
elections for selection of candidates. One instituted policies for women's political
married woman who applied to stand as a advancement, and have introduced
candidate in the 1992 local government affirmative action for maintaining a
elections found that a delegation of male minimum proportion of women in their
party officials visited her house to talk to legislative assemblies. However, no other
her husband. He was asked if he had given African countries have programmes for
permission for his wife to stand as a women's advancement that stress the
candidate, and whether he had his wife importance of increasing the proportion
sufficiently 'under control'. of women in decision-making positions in
For the even smaller proportion of the public domain. Such programmes
women who succeed in being elected to would threaten male-dominated governments
local government or to parliament, gender and political systems. However, even in
discrimination is not over. It is likely to Uganda and South Africa, it is not clear
take the form of various forms of verbal that the governments are wholeheartedly
sexual harassment, such as constant behind their own policies for women's
innuendos about the morality of women in political advancement. Experience shows
politics, and claims that the women have that such policies can be opposed
progressed by means of sexual liaison with and thwarted at the administrative
prominent men in politics. Such strategies (bureaucratic) levels of government.

Where they exist, national programmes boardrooms of parastatal and public

for 'women's advancement' concentrate on corporations. Empowerment must be
'softer' areas of policy. These limited defined and measured in terms of women's
programmes do not usually originate from control, and not mere access.
African governments, but are instead Increased control entails increased
instigated by international development empowerment, at the level of the family,
agencies. International agencies, especially community, and government. Whereas
UN agencies, have clear policies for programmes for women's increased health
women's empowerment, deriving from and education are useful and necessary, we
their commitments under the Beijing must not be duped that these are also
Platform for Action and other similar programmes for women's empowerment.
declarations and agreements, and therefore We may say, 'Thank you very much for
have to insist that their development your programmes to improve women's
programmes are 'gender-oriented'. By welfare and access to resources'. But we
contrast, African governments do not want must also ask, 'Where are your
any programmes that upset the existing programmes to support the process of
political order of male dominance. women's empowerment?'.
A comfortable compromise is reached
when development agencies confine the Direct action strategies for
gender element of their programmes to
the level of improving women's welfare
women's advancement
and increasing their access to resources, In South Africa, policies for women's
but exclude all interventions aimed at advancement have been - and continue to be
enabling women gain increased political - pushed forward by the strong, politically-
empowerment. It is this uneasy and oriented women's movement, which was
immoral compromise that explains inter- developed during the years of African
national agencies' strange inability to give a exclusion from government during the
plain and straightforward definition of the struggle against apartheid. Lessons can be
word 'empowerment'! learned from this experience. The past
Equal representation of women in decade of near-complete lack of progress on
parliament is not a goal in itself, but is a women's political advancement should be
means towards the larger goal of removing clear but grim testimony of the folly
legalised gender discrimination, and of appealing to the male political
ensuring gender equality and justice in all establishment to change their ways, and
governance. The struggle for women's give more power to women. The present
empowerment is not merely about pushing system serves male interests, and its
ourselves into positions of power - it is continuation may be assumed to be a
equally about using these positions of priority goal of the patriarchal state.
power to release African women from their This analysis suggests major pointers
present subordination and servitude. for improved overall strategies for women's
Only by increased control over organisations in Africa, for development
resources can women collectively increase NGOs, and for international development
their access to resources. This means ending funders, if they are to have more impact in
the present discriminatory practices in promoting women's political
access to credit, technology, skills, and - empowerment. We need to realise the
especially - land. Discriminatory practices hopelessness of assumptions that women's
can only be ended by means of increased increased access to resources - whether
control over the executive and legislative credit, education, or training - will
arms of government, and in the necessarily lead to women's increased
Towards realistic strategies for women's political empowerment in Africa 29

empowerment and political participation. single issues, around which there is a

Secondly, we must drop any illusions that prospect of regional and global mobili-
patriarchal government is somehow on sation of the sisterhood.
our side, and instead recognise such A mobilisation campaign needs to focus
govern-ment as the main obstacle to on a gender issue where the obstacle of
women's advancement. gender discrimination is clearly an
A coalition of all women's organisations underlying cause of an observable problem.
could be built, that recognises that It should be an issue that is clearly
promoting women's empowerment at all connected to a violation of women's human
levels can and should be an essential rights, so that there is therefore legal
element in any programme for women's backing (national or international) for
advancement. In this way, women can take programme action, and so that work
direct action on the issues that matter to between organisations is possible, based on
them, from outside government. In consensus on human rights principles.
building such coalitions for women's A key lesson from my experience is to
empowerment, there is much prospect of exploit ideological contradiction; that is,
regional campaigns around crucial gender choose a gender issue where you can use
issues, such as brideprice, polygamy, ideological contradiction to undermine
exclusion of women from land ownership, public attempts to justify a practice that is
and patriarchal systems of inheritance. discriminatory. Such contradiction is
Concern with such issues cuts across the commonly found where a discriminatory
sectoral interests of NGOs working in practice contravenes the national
different areas. They are issues on which a constitution or other statutory law, or
wide range of NGOs can unite for a contravenes UN Conventions which the
collective and collaborative effort. government may have ratified, or
Campaigns need to be built around contravenes established government policy.
women's collective identification of those The issue needs to be widely acknowledged
gender issues that can provide the key as an important grievance, so that different
points of leverage against the resistance women's organisations can mobilise
of the patriarchal state. A key point around it. If possible, the issue should be
of leverage may be defined in terms of one that is already a focus of concern for
criteria that identify the weak points in the women's organisations or pressure groups.
patriarchal defence of male privilege, and A gender issue has more strategic and
that enable collective action by a broad campaign value where it is a common
spectrum of different women's concern for women in the region or sub-
organisations. region, and where there is a prospect of
joining a regional campaign of action to
Criteria for selecting gender address it. Finally, if the issue is not only
one of women's rights but of development
issues for direct action importance, it may be possible to gain the
We still have much to learn about how to support of development agencies with a
mobilise around such global campaigns. I common interest in contributing towards
think we have much to learn about collective action to address it.
the 'issue-based politics' that has developed In Africa, over the past ten years, we
in the North, around such issues as whaling have seen the gradual development of a
and land mines. While women's advance- campaign against female genital mutilation
ment depends on addressing a thousand (FGM), which affects women in about half
issues, the practicalities of political the countries of Africa. This is the type of
advancement call for the selection of clear issue-based politics that has the potential

for pulling together the African women's give power to women, we shall wait for
movement in the common pursuit of ever. We would do better to ignore
political power, for the purpose of patriarchal claims that we lack the
addressing a well-defined gender issue. prerequisites of education, confidence, or
leadership qualities. On the contrary,it is
the patriarchal state which has already
Conclusion given us the only necessary prerequisite
In the vocabulary of international that we need - moral outrage against the
development agencies, 'women's injustice of our present mistreatment and
empowerment' is an ill-defined concept. subordination.
Programme documents insist that women
are 'empowered' by access to education, by Sara Hlupekile Longwe is chairperson of
increased access to credit, or access to land. FEMNET, and a feminist development
How can this be? Surely the very word consultant. She can be contacted at
'empowerment' means increased power, PO Box 37090, Lusaka, Zambia.
not merely increased access to resources. E-mail: sara&
Power is about increased control over
resources. At the national level, women's
empowerment means women controlling Notes
resources through their presence in 1. This article is drawn from a paper
government, and having the opportunities originally presented at the 1999 Seoul
to allocate those resources so that women International Conference of NGOs in the
and men benefit equally. It means their 21st Century, 10-15 October 1999, Korea.
participation in parliaments to vote for 2. Figures on percentages of women in
discriminatory laws to be removed from parliament in this article are for the
statute books, government regulations, period 1994-8.
administrative practice, and from all 3. Many of the councillors' experiences of
custom and tradition. 'dirty tricks' are recounted in Caucus of
Reliance on promoting women's Women Councillors, 1994.
political advancement by a strategy of
increasing women's education, or by
'leadership training', is a mistake. For
example, an NGO that is supposed to be Caucus of Women Councillors (1994),
enabling more women to gain entry into 'Increasing Women's Participation in
parliament can adopt an approach of Local Government: Report of the Gender
providing leadership training for potential Consultation Workshop, 25-28 January,
women candidates. This strategy implicitly 1994', obtainable from the Women's
blames women for their lack of access to Lobby, PO Box 30342, Lusaka, Zambia.
the resources of education, and their lack of Inter-Parliamentary Union (1999), Women
participation in government, because of in Politics, obtainable from I-P U, CP 438,
their alleged lack of confidence and 1211, Geneva 19, Switzerland.
leadership skills. In fact, the key problem Longwe S. (1998), 'Education for women's
should be identified as the covert and empowerment or schooling for women's
discriminatory systems of male resistance subordination', in Gender and Development,
to women who dare to challenge male 6(2).
domination of the present political system. SARDC (1999), Beyond Inequalities: Women
It is in the nature of empowerment that in Southern Africa, obtainable from
it cannot be given. It has to be taken. If we SARDC, PO Box 5690, Harare,
wait for male patriarchal government to Zimbabwe.

Collective action,
organisation building, and
women workers in the garment sector in
Petra Dannecker
A very noticeable feature of economic development in many Asian countries has been the growing
employment of young women in industry. Whereas much has been written about the exploitation of
the workers, and this is often related to the wider debates about the links between gender relations
and globalisation,1 there has been relatively little analysis of the ways in which women resist
exploitation through collective action, creating organisations, and networking. All these strategies enable
women workers to cope with ongoing change, and sometimes to reshape gender power relations.
This article analyses collective action, organisation-building, and women's leadership in the garment
sector in Bangladesh, where women have rapidly entered a highly visible form of employment.

he Bangladeshi garment sector, on the formal sector work-force, new modes of
which this article focuses, entered a control have arisen. However, as this article
phase of 'phenomenal' growth in the will show, women have not left these
early 1980s (Siddiqi 1995, 2). Approximately unchallenged. The question of who initiates
2,200 factories are registered, and it is and leads these protests is of special interest
assumed that between 0.8 and 1.2 million to gender and development workers and
female workers are employed in the feminist activists, since the women working
garment factories, which means 80 per cent in this sector are still widely perceived as a
of the work force in this sector (Financial docile, 'manipulated mass' (Hossain et al.
Express 1999). Bangladesh is now the sixth 1988, 133). The forms of leadership that I
largest supplier of T-shirts, blouses, found in the factories - both informal and
trousers, and shirts to the USA, and the fifth formal - demonstrate that leadership is a
largest to the European Union markets. relational concept, which can only be
Until the emergence of this new form of analysed by examining people's inter-
employment, women had not participated actions with others, and it is shaped by
in large numbers in the paid work-force in gender relations, religion, and culture.
Bangladesh. Religious beliefs, including Furthermore, the question of leadership
Islamic norms of separate spheres for cannot be discussed without linking it to
women and men, and, in particular, the the question of authority and power, and
ideal of purdah,2 determine permissible different views of power.
modes of behaviour for women (Kabeer This article is based on research in
1991). As women have been integrated into Dhaka, during 1996. It consisted of around

80 narrative interviews with garment initiative, convince the others to follow

workers employed in different factories, them, and then negotiate with the mainly
and interviews with unions and NGO male management. Helpers or junior
representatives, factory owners, and operators would never plan an activity
government officers. The interviews were without the support or the leadership of
conducted in various settings, such as a senior operator, who had showed her
union offices, hostels, and workers' living willingness to represent their interests
places, since I was not allowed to talk or take their side in negotiations with the
to the workers inside the factories. management.
The quotations in this article are taken from The fact that younger workers would
the transcripts of the interviews. never take the initiative by themselves
mirrors surrounding social hierarchy and
power structures, which shape the
Collective action or interaction between men and women, and
informal resistance? also between older women and younger
Most workers I met in the course of my women. Kinship terms are used to describe
research did not perceive collective action relationships with people outside the
as feasible at all. Reasons given included family in a variety of circumstances in
the fact that salaries are negotiated Bengali society (see Kabeer 1991 for a
individually; the way in which the work discussion of 'fictive kinship'). In the
process is organised, which means the factory context, women workers call
work is very atomised; strict rules and supervisors and male colleagues 'older
regulations that undermine communication brother'. This example may indicate
and interactions between the workers, and women's wish to de-sexualise the
make collective action difficult to organise; encounters between men and women at
sanctions on the part of the management; work, and render the relationship more
and the high turnover of staff set against socially acceptable. A second example is
a backdrop of high numbers of young that female senior operators are called
women migrating to the capital seeking apa (older sister) by the younger workers.
wage employment. All these are negative According to the interviewees, establishing
influences on the development of solidarity a hierarchy between the female workers,
among workers, and reduce collective along age and occupational lines, helps
action inside the factories. new workers - especially younger ones - to
However, I did observe frequent feel familiar in the new context. One young
collective protests in particular circum- woman I spoke to, Nazma, put it as
stances. In addition, some workers follows:
described forms of collective action they At the beginning I was very shy, I felt very
had taken at the garment factories. Most of uncomfortable in the new setting. I was
these protests were short-term and sporadic, suddenly together with a lot of people I did not
and were the upshot of specific incidents. know, I was not used to the kind of work and
For example, when overtime pay was not the long working hours and felt uncomfortable
paid, women stopped the sewing machines sitting under a fan. My senior operator who
to protest against the delay. asked me to call her apa was very nice and
Women of different age groups and treated me like a daughter. She helped me to
positions initiated and participated in such understand my work and introduced me to
collective action to different degrees. An other helpers. She did not allow the supervisor
important role was played by more to behave bad with me. I am now working in
experienced senior machine operators. another factory but I am still very thankful to
They were normally the ones to take the her.
Collective action, organisation building, and leadership 33

On the one hand, the use of the term apa their interest, and therefore do not take on
for older women workers implies respect the expected role of older sister. One junior
and affection on the part of younger operator told me:
women, and their hope that they will be In the factory [where] I worked before, we did
supported. On the other hand, it indicates not get our salary in time. The senior operators
that the younger ones accept the leadership initiated a protest, and talked then with the
and the authority of the older ones. Older management. After some days they received
sisters do normally have more say in the their money but we, the junior operators and
family than the younger ones, and this helpers, did not. We asked the senior operators
power structure is transferred into the to protest again, but they said this would not
factories. As in the family context older make sense since the management only agreed to
sisters often take over the role of a pay their salaries. We ask them to do something
mediator, the fictive 'older sisters' in the for us, but they did not.
factories fulfil that function. The older
workers I spoke to were very well aware The fact that hierarchical relationships
that they are supposed to take a leading between women in society has thrust the
position in collective action and pay responsibility for leadership onto older
negotiations with management. However, workers, independent of their commitment
this often put them under pressure, and to this, not only puts the older female
not all women were eager to take on the workers under pressure, but hinders
responsibility. Leadership in these younger women from taking on leadership
situations is thus not a 'position' freely themselves. The same junior operator
chosen, but part of the hierarchical asked: 'So what can we do? We cannot just
structure. go to them without at least one apa who
speaks for us.'
Just as a family has members whose
In order for a sense of collective identity
age or gender gives them a greater say in
and a common purpose to develop, people
decision-making processes and greater
must perceive a link between their
access to resources than others, so senior
own interests and the interests of others
operators who have worked in a factory for
(Folbre 1994, 69). The social hierarchy
a long time are more likely to have their
amongst the female workers in the factories,
demands fulfilled than the other workers.
which reflects the hierarchy between older
Sabina, a senior operator, reported:
and younger women outside, inhibits this
We always have to organise the workers and talk development. Labour relations are
with the management, sometimes the managers embedded in social structures, and this
listen to us, especially when we are very affects the question of who takes on a
experienced. But normally they only try to leadership role, as well as the interactions
satisfy our demands and not that of all the between the workers. This will also be seen
operators and helpers. What can we do, I have a in the case of women's interaction with
little son I have to take care of, and I need the formal trade unions, examined in the next
money. I cannot say, 'OK, if you do not pay all section.
of us the money you owe us then I will leave,'
but I often feel bad about it.
Senior operators often articulated a
Formal trade unions
strong identification with the factory, and Trade unions and industrial federations in
the preferential treatment experienced was Bangladesh have only recently started to
one of the reasons they gave for their become aware of the opportunities offered
loyalty. Some younger workers complained to them by garment industry as a potential
that the senior operators do not negotiate in source of organisational strength.3 At the

time of my research, out of 65 industrial From my research, it seemed that the

federations operating in Bangladesh, only interactions between people in the unions -
eight were active in the garment sector. The in the main, between the male represen-
basis for the federations in Bangladesh is tatives and the women workers - were
the unions. The unions are enterprise- central in explaining women's reluctance
based, and become registered if 30 per cent to participate in the union, let alone to take
of the workers become members. over leadership positions. Concentrating
Women in my research did not choose on these interactions, and analysing them
to engage in much trade union activity from the point of view of unequal gender
themselves, or to use the unions to extend power relations, gives us a greater insight
their autonomy and create their own room into the problematic relationship between
for manoeuvre within the organisations the two.
(Lachenmann 1997). Some research Union and federation leaders whom I
suggests that women are unwilling to take interviewed attributed the general lack of
up the challenging position of union participation and engagement by female
leaders (Luchmun 1995). However, the garment workers in the union to their
main reason given by the workers to me is rural background and lack of education.
that they are aware that the unions and the But a different picture emerged during
federations usually advance male interests: union meetings I attended. Typically, the
either those of male workers, or the male representatives of the unions - all men - sat
leaders of the unions and federations behind a table, while the female workers
themselves. who attended the meetings sat in front
In Asia, as in the rest of the world, most of them on the floor. Often the women
of the higher positions in trade unions are were very shy, hiding their faces while
monopolised by men (Charles 1993). In the listening to the representatives, who
case of Bangladesh, hardly any women lectured them about labour law. It was
have taken leading positions or actively relatively normal for people attending
participated in any of the formal unions or such meetings not to dare to ask questions,
federations. Case studies of other countries but the women did not even seem greatly
reveal similar findings (see for example interested. Instead, they appeared very
Joekes 1987, Luchmun 1995). Even though eager to leave. When I accompanied them
working-class women have played an as they left, and asked for their
important role in the labour movements impressions, Hazara, a senior operator,
world-wide, the relationship between commented:
women and institutionalised unions has What can I say? One of my colleagues
always been problematic. Women's motivated me to go to this meeting because they
participation has, in almost all cases, not might help us. But I do not know what this
been sustained and institutionalised; organisation can do for us, the man who talked
rather, it has been short-term and sporadic. was not even a garment worker. I did not
Reasons given in the literature include the understand what he was talking about. He
fact that women do not identify themselves asked what problems we have, what can I say,
as workers, and that they have very little he will not understand. I felt very uneasy with
time to spare to attend union meetings, due all these people around.
to their duties at home (Luchmun 1995,
Martens and Mitter 1995). However, these Obviously, Hazara could not see any
are not necessarily the causes of women's benefit for herself in joining this
lack of interest in union activities in the organisation. She could not see how the
Bangladesh garment factories. lecture on formal labour law related to her
Collective action, organisation building, and leadership 35

working reality, and her day-to-day officials are affiliated to political parties.
experiences in the factory. In general, it is Having said all this, the women
hard for workers to see the relevance of workers did not dare to openly criticise the
such discussions to their lives, since many - way they were treated by union and
including those I spoke to - are not federation officials, since the norms
focusing on securing the minimum wage, regulating male-female behaviour, and the
but rather on how to get their salaries hierarchy between them and the union
and overtime paid at all. The women I leaders, would not allow open complaints
interviewed who had had contact with the or questioning of the representatives'
federations said they could not relate to the knowledge. Instead, women often chose to
organisers or leaders, nor could they see show resistance by non-attendance of
any common interest between them and meetings; this is their way of signalling
the men in these positions. Another rejection. This was very clearly articulated
worker, Moni, pointed but: by Hazara:
See, we discuss about the problems sometimes I just came because of my colleague. I do not go
in the factory. Then, we sit together, and we there again. I need time at home. I work so
gossip about the management, the foreign many hours and I have to do the housework
buyers, or the problems we have at home due in the evenings. I do not have time to sit around
to our work. We also think about what we can there with people 1 do not know and who have
do to change our hardship, but it is difficult. no idea about my work and my problems.
This man from the organisation talked about
The 'ignorance' women show by not
some laws, but these laws have no relevance in
attending these meetings can be further
our factory, so why should I spend my time
analysed by reference to debates on
listening to him? It is better to share my
'popular modes of political actions'
problems with my colleagues - they will at
(Bayart 1986; Scott 1976). The leaders of the
least understand. This man I do not know ...
unions adopted a very paternalistic mode
in the factory ...we work together like sisters
of interaction with women workers,
and brothers. With them, I feel comfortable and
indicating that they visualise union activity
they understand.
to be run in a way that reflects the gender
It is clear from the description of the order in society. On their part, women
meeting given above that women's own obeyed gender norms by behaving shyly
knowledge and experience of labour and obediently during the meetings, but
relations was not acknowledged by the made their point of view quite clear by
federation officials, who acted in a very not participating further.
authoritarian way. In fact, the way the The following section looks at an
federation representatives treated the informal union, the Bangladesh
women workers was very similar to the Independent Garment Workers Union, as a
authoritarian and patriarchal treatment good contrast to the experience women had
they experience from male supervisors in of formal unions. It is a good example of a
the factories. Women pointed out that feasible alternative way of organising
whereas they were forced to accept such workers to resist exploitation collectively, a
behaviour from the factory managers, they way that respects their realities and the fact
did not have to tolerate such behaviour in that they are human beings who are
their free time. In addition, the leadership capable of logical action. It also shows that
of unions and federations was perceived by women in the garment factories are willing
the workers as motivated more by party and able to take over leadership positions,
politics than a concern for the interests of but define their positions and power
workers, since federation and even union differently.

The Bangladesh has been lost in modern factories through

Independent Garment the organisation of the work processes, and
the treatment of women workers. Moni, a
Workers Union
worker attending one such event, stated:
This informal union was founded in 1994,
7 am here for the first time - one of my friends
by four women garment workers. They had
from the factory convinced me to join her. I like
had very negative experiences with
it very much, it is nice to sit together, to sing
different federations and thus decided to
and to talk. I talked with several women and the
form their own federation and, in the
organisers already, and discovered that they
long run, unions, with the help of an
suffer as much as I do. In the factory it is not
international development donor. The
possible to talk with each other about your
Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers
complaints, since people mistrust each other;
Union has an executive committee of 15
here it is different. I still feel a little bit shy
workers; to qualify for the committee, they
with all the people 1 do not know, but this may
must have worked for at least five years in
change when I come more often. I like the
a garment factory, and ten out of the 15
lawyer, she was telling us what she can do if we
positions must be held by women. The aim
have a problem. I do not think that I would be
of the organisation is not only to improve
brave enough to do something against my
the terms and conditions of employment
owner, but it is good to know that there is
for garment workers, but to offer various
someone I could ask.
forms of support requested by members. In
contrast to the formal unions, this To build up solidarity through collective
organisation therefore supports the action and communication is the most
workers in meeting their daily needs. To do important aspect of the work performed
this, two lawyers (members of the by the organisers. In contrast to the
Bangladesh National Women's Lawyers representatives of other trade unions and
Association) are employed part-time; federations, the women and men involved
evening schools have been established for in this organisation have all had experience
garment workers, offering literacy of work in the factories. I observed that
programmes as well as English classes, workers meeting the organisers for the first
as requested by the workers; and medical time are very interested in where they have
clinics have been set up in the three centres worked, what kind of problems they have
established by the union in different areas had, and why they initiated the union. Only
of town. when the newcomers are familiar with the
In the beginning, the leaders of the union and its aims do the organisers
union, who call themselves 'organisers', introduce ideas about steps that could be
tried to motivate the workers on a personal taken to improve the situation described by
basis, by visiting them at home. This the workers. They aim to make it clear from
strategy of coming to the workers (which is the beginning that the organisation is not
well established in the NGO scene in aiming to solve their problems - rather, it
Bangladesh) was very successful. The seeks to assist them in solving them
organisers also tried, through songs, themselves. The next step is for the
dances, and short plays emanating from organisers to try to find someone who
their own experiences, to generate a feeling could take over a leading position within
of solidarity. The cultural programme the respective factory. One organiser, Lily,
was very popular with the women I told me:
interviewed. It seems to preserve 'a sense
of human identity and dignity, and of Often, after the first meeting here, you can see
cultural creativity' (Mies 1988, 141), which already who is likely to be a good leader. There
Collective action, organisation building, and leadership 37

are always workers who are more outspoken and turned out to be a process of collective
self-confident than others. We try to motivate effort between them. In addition,
them individually to take over this involvement with the union has provided a
responsibility. All workers then try to motivate opportunity for workers - particularly
colleagues in their factories to come and join younger ones - to acquire self-confidence.
our organisation. Then we select one evening, This has sometimes affected their
when they come together to the office, and select behaviour in the factories: some of them
a person who should speak for them here, and have started to organise the other workers,
with the management in the factory. That is not irrespective of the age hierarchy. Those
an easy process, but, as I said, there are always who have had these positive experiences
workers who are more outspoken than the have subsequently gained sufficient
others. confidence to criticise the leaders of the
Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers
Women joining the union choose which Union and challenge their authority.
kind of activities they think the union Discussions concerning the future of the
should be involved in. For example, some organisation have taken place. Whereas
women attending the evening school were some leaders of the union have limited
neither interested in the collective activities themselves to simply meeting their aims
that the union was trying to build up in the on a local level, others have become more
factories, nor in learning about the labour involved in networking and building
laws. These women told me they had not strategies at a national and international
felt under pressure to say they were level. With the support of the international
interested in these things; rather, they donor agency, two of the leaders have
perceived involvement in the union as open travelled abroad to conferences, to present
not only to women who want to change their experience and strategies. At the time
their working lives, but also to those who of my research, networking with other
seek personal development. Often, these organisations on a national level was also
aspects go together or depend on each planned, and meetings with Bangladeshi
other. NGOs, which are slowly becoming
The Bangladesh Independent Garment involved in this sector were organised.
Workers Union is unique in Bangladesh, However, these aims are not perceived
and is in many ways a success; however, as positive by all within the organisation.
trial and error have accompanied the work Older women felt that younger ones are not
and the process of organisational consulting them, and criticised in the group
development, according to the organisers interviews their lack of respect. These
and the lawyers interviewed. Some conflicts will hopefully in the long run
organisers have become 'professionalised', enhance the older and younger women's
and a paternalistic mode of interaction capacity for interaction. The workers
between them and women workers could involved in this organisation started to
be observed, as in the formal unions. realise that groups of people can have
However, the difference was that whereas power and can initiate changes in ways that
in other unions the workers simply left individuals cannot, a point often
when this behaviour was exhibited, in this highlighted by organisers as well as
union such behaviour has been criticised members. This of course was a learning
by the other organisers, or by the workers process for most of the women. Whereas in
themselves. rural areas development NGOs have been
Having an elected executive committee trying for a long time to organise women in
of several former workers was one reason groups to strengthen their bargaining
for this openness, since leadership has power, in the private sector, where women

as workers have been excluded until In contrast, the women's own informal
recently, this is a new experience for most union follows alternative strategies that
women workers. the women themselves have determined,
Collective action in the union has also but its leadership tends to be more
had an impact on women workers' lives in collective in style. This influences the
unexpected ways. Although most of the organisational process, as well as ensuring
workers live with their families or relatives, the participation of women workers. In
some women are now deciding to share a the informal union, equality between the
room with other workers. Women choosing leaders and members is actively promoted.
to form residential units that are not The power relations between men and
organised around a male guardian is a women, and between women according to
previously unheard-of way of living in seniority, are - at least at a formal level -
Bangladesh. abolished in the informal union. This opens
the way for women, including younger
women, to take leading positions.
Conclusion NGOs and women's organisations have
This article has shown that besides less been very reluctant to support women
formal forms of resistance, more formal workers and their interests, since the whole
kinds of collective action have also sector is highly politicised. The garment
evolved in Bangladeshi garment factories sector was the only expanding sector in
(Dannecker 1999). The way the workers Bangladesh in the 1980s and 1990s, so
perceive the power structure between criticism by NGOs was not then and is not
women of different age groups, and the now greatly welcomed. Nevertheless, the
occupational stratification inside the garment workers are initiating change in
factories, influence the organisation of their employment conditions as well as
collective action, and reinforce unequal wider social change that has the potential to
power between older and younger women. challenge gender relations in their
While more and more trade unions are communities. Their story is useful in
becoming involved in the garment sector, enabling gender and development
and these are currently trying to organise researchers and workers to understand the
the workers, the workers themselves seem gender dimension of global economic
to be hesitating, preferring informal groups changes, and the way in which global
and networks. My research indicates that change is embedded in local communities.
women workers are not passive, ignorant, Support and alliances with other
or unaware of their exploitation, as organisations, national as well as
suggested by some male union officials. international, are needed to ensure that
Rather, the male-dominated hierarchies women are not only seen as victims of
within the formal unions and their global restructuring, but as agents who are
leadership, and their links to political able to widen their room for manoeuvre.
power beyond the union, are themselves a
key reason why women hardly ever Petra Dannecker is a lecturer in sociology of
participate in these organisations. The development at the University of Bielefeld,
power structure between men and women, Germany. Contact details: Sociology of
as part of the existing gender order, is not Development Research Centre, University of
only produced and reproduced in the Bielefeld, P.O. Box 100131,33501 Bielefeld,
formal unions, but also explains why Germany. E-mail: petra.dannecker@post.uni-
women hardly participate and are not
found in leading positions.
Collective action, organisation building, and leadership 39

Notes Joekes, S. (1987), Women in the World

Economy: An INSTRAW Study, New
1 See for example Standing 1989. York: UNIFEM.
2 Purdah regulates to a great degree the Kabeer, N. (1991), 'Cultural drops or
social and physical space occupied by rational fools? Women and labour
men and women and also functions as supply in the Bangladesh garment
a status symbol. The purdah principles industry', The European Journal of
are expressed in a series of prescribed Development Research, 3(1).
behaviour patterns (for further Lachenmann, G. (1997), Frauen und
discussion see Siddiqi 1991). Globalisierung: aktuelle Entwicklungen und
3 The union and federation system in kritische Diskurse, Working Paper 282,
Bangladesh is very complicated. Most Bielefeld University.
of the federations are ancillary to Luchmun, D. (1995), 'Women in trade
political parties, and trade union officials unions in the Mauritius export
are often drawn from the political elite. processing zones', in M.H. Martens and
S. Mitter (eds), Women in Trade Unions,
Geneva: International Labour Office.
References Martens, M.H. and S. Mitter (eds) (1995),
Bayart, J.F. (1986), 'Civil Society in Africa', Women in Trade Unions, Geneva:
in Patrick Chabal (ed.), Political International Labour Office.
domination in Africa: reflections on the Mies, M., V. Bennholdt-Thomson, and
limits of power, Cambridge: Cambridge C. von Werlhof (1988), Women: The Last
University Press. Colony, London: Zed Books.
Charles, N. (1993), Gender Division and Scott, J. (1976), The Moral Economy of the
Social Change, Lanham: Barnes and Peasants. Rebellion and Subsistence in
Noble Books. Southeast Asia, New Haven: Yale
Dannecker, P. (1999), Conformity or University Press.
Resistance? Women Workers in the Garment Siddiqi, H. (1995), 'Emerging Competitors
Factories in Bangladesh, Working Paper 326, and Bangladesh in Global Apparel
Bielefeld University. Markets', paper presented at the
Financial Express of Bangladesh (1999) Bangladesh Apparel and Textile
'Garment workers pass hard days', EXPO'95, Dhaka.
August 15. Standing, Guy (1989), 'Global feminisation
Folbre, N. (1994), Who pays for the kids? through flexible labor', World
Gender and Structures of Constraint, Development, 17(7).
London: Routledge.
Hossain, H., R. Jahan, and S. Sobhan (1988),
'Industrialization and women workers in
Bangladesh: from home-based work to
the factories', in N. Heyzer (ed.),
Daughters in Industry, Kuala Lumpur:
Asian and Pacific Development Center.

'Empowered leaders'?
Perspectives on women heading
households in Latin America and
Southern Africa
Kavita Datta and Cathy Mcllwaine
Although development research, policy, and practice have focused extensively on women-headed
households, the subject is rarely couched in terms of leadership. Drawing on case studies from
Guatemala and Botswana, this paper focuses on perceptions of women heads of households in wider
society; the extent to which positive images offemale leadership have filtered to the grassroots; and
the question of whether and how female leadership styles differ from those of male household heads.
It highlights the challenges in changing gender ideologies that prescribe that men are 'better'
heads than women.

hat is a household, and what 1993). While estimates of the proportion of
does it mean to lead or head a households headed by women are
household? Households take inaccurate, figures suggest that 14-30
many different forms which vary according per cent of households in Latin America
to their location, and change over time.1 and 25-45 per cent of households in the
The fact that there is no universal definition Caribbean are headed by women, rising to
has led some to question as to whether it over 50 per cent in some parts of urban
is a useful concept at all (Buvinic and Africa and Latin America (Chant 1997a).
Gupta 1997). Yet, since the household is an There is now much more appreciation
arena in which gender roles, relations, and of the diversity and heterogeneity of
identities are defined and idealised, female-headed households, and there are
households have been a critical focus for many terms used to describe them. These
feminist research and gender analysis range from female-maintained, female-led,
(Pothukuchi 1992). mother-centred, lone-mother, to, at the
Feminist research can be applauded for most extreme, male-absent households.
re-thinking the concept of the household, Women-headed households vary in
and recognising that households are composition to include single parents
internally differentiated units usually living alone with children, with or without
characterised by conflict on grounds of other relatives, as well as grandmother-
gender and age. Such research has also headed households (Chant 1997a). It is also
challenged conventional notions of the important to distinguish between de jure
'head of the household'.2 It is no longer and de facto women-headed households.
automatically assumed that heads of The former are units with no resident male
households are men, and women are now partner on a permanent basis, and include
recognised as legitimate household heads divorced, separated, and widowed women.
in their own right (Mencher and Okongwu De facto female heads, on the other hand,
Perspectives on women heading households in Latin America and Southern Africa 41

are women with no male partners resident these households remain an undesirable
in the household, yet where men contribute anomaly in many places, and the women
to household maintenance. The most who head them are often subject to
common type of de facto headship is due to disapproval. This is particularly the case in
male labour migration, where men migrate societies where marriage and motherhood
for certain periods of time, sending are idealised. Depending on the context,
remittances home to be allocated by the disapproval comes from a range of sources:
female head (Chant 1997a). This has communities, the church, and the state.
important implications for intra-household Additional social stigma comes from the
decision-making as, depending on the notion that female leadership is harmful to
context, women may be relatively children. This has come from ideas about
autonomous or still rely on absent men to the breakdown of so-called 'family values'
make decisions. having resulted in more female-headed
Just as types of women-headed house- households. Among other things, it is
holds differ, there are also different alleged that children who lack 'father
explanations for their formation. These figures' are likely to do badly at school, fail
provide some insights into questions of to secure 'good jobs' and will thus be
leadership. Women heading households under-achievers (Chant 1999). However,
were often assumed to be the victims of recent research on women's leadership
male abandonment, but it is now recognised styles within the household has led to a
that women may choose to form them and new orthodoxy. This suggests that when
thereby take control of theirown (and their women 'hold the purse-strings',3 children
children's) lives (Chant 1997a). are likely to be better nourished and
educated than those in households where
men determine how income is spent (Bruce
Economic and social and Dwyer 1988). The socialisation of
marginalisation of women- children is also thought to be more
headed households egalitarian in women-headed households. It
Many researchers have assumed that is reported that daughters, in particular,
women-headed households are poorer than face less discrimination and are more
their male-headed counterparts. This is likely to receive the same opportunities as
based on the expectation that there are their male siblings (Chant 1997a).
fewer household earners in a female- The current equation of women with
headed household; that women are more equitable and empowering modes of
concentrated in lower-paying jobs; and that leadership is a dangerous generalisation.
women bear a disproportionate domestic Although in many situations women may
burden. This bleak image of women-headed work in more collaborative and non-
households as necessarily poor and hierarchical ways than men (Crewe and
marginalised is now being questioned, and Harrison 1998), this is not always the case.
a more positive picture is currently being Many studies of women's leadership
painted. There is increasing consensus that patterns arising from research into gender
although the relationship between women- and organisational development (Goetz
headed households and poverty holds in 1997) show that the likelihood of individual
some contexts, this is not always the case women and men adopting non-hierarchical
(Chant 1997b). and participatory forms of leadership
The question of social marginalisation of depends very much upon their upbringing
women-headed households, and the and commitment, as well as on the time
women heads themselves, is also important. they are able to invest in leadership
While their number is growing world-wide, training. Thus, the transition from

oppressive to empowering forms of women in one focus group estimated that

leadership is not natural or immediate women headed 40 per cent of all
when male leaders are replaced by women households in their community, while
(Townsend et al. 1999). Similarly, organi- another woman stated: 'There are five
sations dominated by women do not single mothers in every block here in the
necessarily adopt flat structures in community'. In addition, some focus group
preference to vertical forms of operation. It discussions with indigenous men and
seems that hierarchies based on age, class women placed female headship at 30-60
and education, and not simply gender, per cent of all households in these
are just as important in determining the communities.
nature of leadership. The formation of women-headed
households can be attributed to a number
Attitudes to women of factors that affect both Mayans and
ladinos, including male and female
heading households in infidelity, male alcohol abuse, intra-family
post-conflict Guatemala violence, and international migration. In
We now examine two case studies in addition, the formation of women-headed
relation to the above issues. The first, from house-holds among the indigenous
Guatemala, draws on participatory urban population has been affected by a range of
appraisal (PUA) methodologies, using factors associated with the armed conflict
focus group discussions undertaken in nine of the 1980s. Women and men in the focus
urban poor communities throughout group discussions believed that the
Guatemala in 1999.4 As well as informal majority of female heads in Mayan
discussions held on street corners, in communities were widows whose
people's yards and on doorsteps, focus husbands were killed in the conflict (see
groups were carried out with teachers in also testimonies in ODHAG 1999 that
primary schools, local community leaders, reiterate this pattern). In the focus groups,
and members of grass-roots organisations Xeena and Erica, two indigenous women
(Moser and Mcllwaine 1999). The focus- who head their households, estimated that
group discussions were conducted in an out of a total of 19,000 women heads of
open-ended manner, allowing people to household in their town, 10,000-15,000 had
raise the issues they considered important. attained that status asa result of their
An effort was made to include roughly husbands being murdered in the war.
equal numbers of men and women, and a A high incidence of rape during the
range of different ages and ethnic groups. conflict has also contributed to the
There is a widespread official assumption formation of women-headed households in
that women-headed households are not Guatemala, again particularly among the
numerous, and this is borne out by indigenous population. The systematic
statistics from the United Nations rape of women and girls was used as a
Development Programme (UNDP), which deliberate weapon of war, which in some
reports that in 1990, 16.9 per cent of all cases resulted in women giving birth
households were headed by women (1995, (ODHAG 1999). In the research, Carmelina,
64). There has been very little research on an indigenous woman who had fled to
households in Guatemala because of armed Guatemala City during the 1980s, stated
conflict,5 and studies that have focused on that although there was traditionally a
the family have usually been in rural areas 'rejection of single mothers in Mayan
(Katz 1995). However, information from villages', during the war 'parents had to
focus groups suggests that this figure is an accept them because adolescent and adult
underestimate. For instance, three ladino6 women were raped by the army and were
Perspectives on women heading households in Latin America and Southern Africa 43

left only with a child'. However, she went Women tended to focus most attention
on to say that this acceptance did not on the inability of female heads to perform
extend to the post-conflict period: today, their duties as mothers. A focus group of
these single mothers 'live in a very five ladino women, aged between 30 and 40,
traumatised state - often they have not described 'single mothers' as socially
returned to their villages, and have not irresponsible. One stated that when
married'. their husbands left them for others, usually
because they hadn't looked after them
Social stigma properly, 'some rob and others are
In the research, strong views on the prostitutes', while another suggested,
phenomenon of female headship emerged 'many sell their daughters to maintain
from members of the wider community themselves'. This woman was referring
as well as female heads themselves. The to a neighbour, who was alleged to be
legacies of war, in combination with the a drug addict and gang member, and was
other reasons for the formation of women- believed to have sold her daughter to a
headed households, mentioned earlier, brothel to feed her drug habit.
have resulted in widespread social censure Women heads themselves were only
of both indigenous and ladino women slightly more positive about women
heads. Perceptions of women heads by heading households, emphasising the
members of the wider community were hardships rather than the advantages. Four
overwhelmingly negative: they were ladino single mothers all reported how they
commonly seen, by both women and men, faced discrimination due to prejudice
to be immoral and unable to care for against women, which is rooted in
children. Female leadership was generally machismo. The youngest, Marina, who was
thought to be the cause of high levels of pregnant, said that she faced most
crime and violence, and the 'perverse discrimination in employment. She had
socialisation' of children. worked in a bakery, but when her
Men - especially elderly men - were pregnancy started to show, she was sacked.
more likely to focus on the assumed sexual Another of the women, Luz, noted how she
promiscuity of single mothers. Frederico, experienced hardship both economically
an indigenous man involved in one group and emotionally; she never had any money,
discussion, blamed the loose morals of and always felt 'sad and lonely'.
young women for single motherhood, However, many single women in the
tending to associate this with teenage research felt they were better off not having
pregnancy: 'the young women are stupid a male partner. This was particularly true
because they let the men use them, and for those who had been physically or
they use them like dogs. The men tell lies, sexually abused. Although both women
and afterwards leave the girls with big and men with little personal experience
bellies'. He said that women should learn of female headship tended to assume that
not to have relations with men before women were household heads because
marriage, or they would be 'paid back' men had chosen not to be, some women
by ending up as single mothers, often heads involved in the research had made a
entering prostitution to pay for food for choice to leave men. This was the case for
their children. It should be noted that, far Dorotea, a 28 year-old indigenous woman,
from 'leading men on' as Frederico who was separated from her partner.
suggested, focus groups from this During a focus group discussion with
community noted that women were often another indigenous woman, she described
raped by boyfriends, male relatives or male how he had beaten her since they first
strangers. married, when she was aged 13. She finally

left him when she found out he had a more 'uneducated women' looked after
relationship with another woman and two their children.
other children. Although he wanted to get Overall, the Guatemala case shows how
back with her, she did not want to: 'I'm difficult it is to change embedded gender
tired of all the mistreatment.' She was norms within communities. The notion that
willing to put up with having no money, households without a male leader or father
and not being able to send her children to figure are deviant remains widespread.
school, if this was the price of escaping his
violence (although she made enough
money to buy food from selling wood she Leadership compared:
collected). household heads in Botswana
The 'perverse socialisation' of children The case study of Botswana looks at the
The issue of single motherhood and differences in leadership styles between
women's perceived lack of legitimacy as female- and male-headed households, with
leaders of their households was frequently reference to decision-making regarding the
cited by members of focus groups, and allocation of household duties and the
especially by men, as a major reason for distribution of resources. The evidence
the 'perverse socialisation' of children. from Botswana indicates that female
Households headed by women were often leaders of households do not necessarily
said to reflect 'family disintegration', which adopt egalitarian and enabling patterns of
was cited as a major problem within the decision-making. In fact, a significant
communities. Single motherhood was proportion of Batswana women emulated
central to explanations of this, together 'male' modes of leadership when they
with intra-family violence. It was headed households.
repeatedly suggested that when single The analysis here draws on 54 in-depth
mothers had to go out to work, children interviews held in Gaborone, capital of
were left alone to fend for themselves, Botswana, in 1995.7 In total, 23 women
often turning to delinquency, drug use, heads, 16 single male heads, and 15 married
and/or gang activity. In the words of one or cohabiting male heads were interviewed,
ladino woman, Maria: 'Children left alone and in each household another member
by their mothers get up to no good, they (usually a younger sibling, cousin, or
join maras (gangs) in an attempt to find grown child) was also interviewed.
a guide not provided by the mother.' Intra- The last census recorded that 47 per cent
family violence within the home was of urban households in Botswana were
blamed for leading to family breakdown headed by women, which is one of the
and single motherhood. highest figures in the world (Datta 1995b).
Teachers were especially swift to blame The emergence and high incidence
women-headed households as a form of of women-headed households in Botswana
family structure, rather than individual is, like many of its Southern African
women heads themselves, for the problems neighbours, directly attributable to the
of children they had in their care. The migrant labour system, which was
teachers cited single motherhood as both prevalent in the region from the late 1980s
a cause and effect of family disintegration, onwards (Datta 1998). Although male
which was also associated with a range migration has since declined, the con-
of delinquent and violent behaviour. comitant rise in female migration from
Ironically, one of the teachers was herself a rural areas to urban areas within Botswana
single parent, yet she was unable to has made such households a significant
distance herself from how she considered part of the urban landscape.
Perspectives on women heading households in Latin America and Southern Africa 45

Despite their prevalence, there is still Perhaps surprisingly, the high incidence
some debate about the stability and of women-headed households does not
viability of women-headed households in reflect greater social acceptance of this
Botswana. In particular, it has been argued household form. In Botswana as in
that urban women-headed households are Guatemala, a common perception is that
a stage in the development cycle of women's greater influence as heads of
households, because many do not exist households accounts for the 'breakdown
prior to migration, while others cease to of society' evidenced by the lack of rain
exist when men return on retirement or (a significant charge, given the periodic
redundancy. In addition, many women droughts in the country), rising criminality,
household heads maintain that they and youth alcohol abuse. In Botswana,
'belong' to larger families in rural villages. this perception is particularly widespread
This indicates the close relationship among elderly rural men, which is
between urban households and a wider significant given that they remain leaders
family usually located in rural villages. and regulators of social norms especially
Ties between the two are maintained not in rural areas (Brunn et al. 1994).
only through remittances, but also through
the incorporation of family members Allocation of household tasks
within the urban and rural household. The Gaborone interviews revealed that the
A significant proportion of female heads process of allocating chores varied greatly
leave their young children in rural within both female- and male-headed
homesteads with their families, and many households. However, gender and age
urban households incorporate family from hierarchies were particularly influential in
the rural areas, partly due to familial determining the distribution of household
expectations and partly out of need (Datta tasks. The discussion here relates mostly to
1995b). Women-headed households often family members, such as siblings, cousins,
incorporate younger female relatives who nephews, and nieces, rather than the
earn their keep in return for performing children of the women heads, since many
most of the household tasks. of these were too young to perform
However, many women-headed any significant tasks in many cases.
households are permanent. Women have In male-headed households, the
increasingly realised the benefits of allocation of tasks was decided upon by the
autonomy associated with household heads. When these households contained
headship, that is denied them within women or girls, they were generally
marriage or cohabitation . It is now expected to carry out all the household
accepted that although marriage was once duties. However, a minority of young
a critical stage in a life course that women living in male-headed households
separated girls from women, the 'cultural' refused to perform domestic work. One
or 'tswana' way of life has changed such woman who lived with her brother, the
that women's identity as adults now head of the household, reported that she
rests on other signifiers such as bearing did her own cleaning and child care, while
children or acquiring a dwelling (Suggs 1987). he employed a maid to do his. In another,
A growing shortage of 'marriageable' men, Dumela, one of two sisters who lived with
due to biased sex ratios and because men their brother said that, after initially
tend to marry at an older age to younger looking after him, they had stopped
women, has reinforced the trend towards because ' ... men like to go out and then
female headship (Van Driel 1994). come and disturb you. So, if you have your
Consequently, unmarried women over the own cooking arrangements then they can
age of 40 are likely to remain single. cook for themselves. Men are not like

women - they go out and come back very particularly unhappy because her sister, the
late.' An interesting contrast is male- household head, 'was bossy and shouted at
headed households where there were no me if the children cried, or if I beat the
women present. Here, young men children for being rude to me'. Tsholofelo
performed most of the domestic work in had come to Gaborone to find a job; when
all cases but one. Here, Tony reported that she failed to find one, she reluctantly
his elder brother, who was also the head of agreed to live with her sister and look after
the household, did some of the household her children, in exchange for free
work 'even though he is the elder brother'. accommodation. While this seemed like
In women-headed households, a a fair exchange, the fact that Tsholofelo was
significant proportion of heads attempted expected to look after the children during
to ensure more egalitarian living arrange- the day meant that her chances of finding
ments between themselves and their female employment were slim. Effectively, women
kin. In some cases, women heads looked like Kebonye and Tsholofelo become
after female relatives and their children out unpaid domestic workers for elder sisters
of altruism, rather than primarily because and female relatives, raising the question
they were sources of unpaid domestic of exploitation by these older women and
labour. For example, some female relatives undermining the image of women as just
who lived in households headed by women and equitable leaders.
reported how the head 'looked after them Male members of women-headed
like a mother'. Portia, who had moved to households - especially older men - were
Gaborone to pursue her studies described far less likely to be called upon to do
how her aunt supported her and expected domestic work. An elder brother, George,
nothing in return; although Portia had who was living in his sister's household,
children, she was not expected to 'even reported,' ... if I am not at work, I clean my
look after them'. Instead, she was free to own room or I do my washing.' However,
devote her time to her studies. he was not expected to, nor did he expect
Yet, as in male-headed households, to, contribute to lightening his sister's
young women relatives performed most of workload by helping her cook or clean the
the domestic work in women-headed rest of the house. While some noted that
households. This is partly attributable to younger male relatives were asked to do
the fact that many of these women had more work, on closer examination it
been incorporated into households transpired that their definitions of domestic
primarily to assist the female head. It also work involved tasks that are conventionally
reflects a tradition of younger women being gendered male, done on an irregular basis,
obliged to help elder women with their and not very time-consuming: 'I help with
domestic work. There were also examples the domestic work - I water the trees and
of women heads who adopted domineering sweep the yard' (Patrick, 21 years old).
leadership styles that reflected little
evidence of a 'caring' attitude. This was Allocation of resources: sharing space
particularly evident in their relationships Much debate on households has focused on
with female kin. Discussions revealed that the allocation of money or food within
the decision to invite some young female households. The allocation of space
kin to join households was often made ('a room of one's own') has received much
without consultation. less attention. Yet space is a vital resource
It is, perhaps, unsurprising that in cities such as Gaborone, which have a
demands made by women heads on their severe housing shortage. The process of
younger kin were sometimes a source of house building in low-income areas
conflict. One respondent, Tsholofelo, was involves the initial construction of a
Perspectives on women heading households in Latin America and Southern Africa 47

temporary structure, to provide shelter headed households reported that they had
until the main house is built. People are to share sleeping space in corridors or
legally required to destroy these on kitchens with children or others. They
completion of the main house, but few do complained that this denied them privacy.
so. It is common to let the temporary Kepametsi, who was 24 and lived with her
structure, and /or one or more rooms in the elder sister, said: '[I cannot] bring my
main house, to generate extra income. boyfriend home, and also I have no space
As with allocation of tasks, the for my possessions.' Very rarely were
allocation of space by male and female women relatives allowed to occupy the
heads to their relatives was varied, temporary dwellings built on housing
presenting a complex picture. However, plots.
once again, gender and age hierarchies A few examples came up of women
were significant deciding factors. heads adopting a bolder stance towards the
Male-headed households tended to general issue of allocating space to
occupy larger dwellings, making space less relatives. One young man, Bernie, lived in
of an issue (Datta 1995a). Male heads in a temporary structure on his aunt's
particular, and men in general, expected to plot. Although he contributed towards
have their own private space within household expenses, he reported that his
dwellings, and were rarely prepared to aunt had asked him to move out, because
sacrifice it to women, some of whom she wanted ' ... to demolish the temporary
complained of lack of personal space. structure and build a proper one which
One young woman, who lived with her she can rent out, instead of letting her
father, said: 'Sometimes my father spends relatives use it for free'.
the night away to give me some space -
and because it is difficult for a father to
sleep in the same room as his daughter, Conclusion
he sometimes sleeps elsewhere with his Although there is some encouraging
friends ... if I have a bath, he has to go evidence of breakthroughs being made by
outside'. women heads of household, gender
In their decision-making on allocating ideologies - which prescribe that men are
accommodation, women heads consistently 'better' leaders of households than women
reinforced social norms of male privilege, - are firmly entrenched. In Guatemala,
sometimes favouring men's need for space negative community attitudes towards
at the expense of their own privacy, as well women's leadership of households
as that of their female relatives. Male depict women as incompetent, and also
relatives were usually given a room of their responsible for children turning to gangs,
own, especially if they were older than the drugs, and violence. Social censure and
household head. Furthermore, if there was negative perceptions of women-headed
a temporary structure within the housing households are caused by particular
plot, this was more likely to be given to assumptions about the way women lead
them rather than to female relations. households. While some women household
Kenneth occupied a temporary structure heads are aware of the benefits of being in
on his sister's plot, for which he paid no charge of their families, community
rent. His sister's decision to let him live perceptions are often very different. These
there was at considerable practical and are based on traditional or 'machista'
economic inconvenience; she was already gender ideologies, which suggest that
sharing one room with her five children, women are unable to lead households.
letting out the only other room to tenants. In addition, many women emulate male
Female relatives in most women- styles of leadership. In urban Botswana,

although women (and indeed male) heads (from AVANCSO, AMVA, CIEN,
do, in some cases, adopt forms of leader- FUNDESCO, and SEPREDI) without
ship which empower younger members whom the research would not have been
of their households, there is also evidence possible. The studies were conducted in
of women heads whose leadership styles Guatemala City, Chinautla, San Marcos,
are very close to those of men. Thus, Huehuetenango, Esquipulas, Santa Cruz
simplistic assumptions cannot be made del Quiche and Santa Lucia
about women's leadership styles in Cotzumalguapa. A total of 1860 people
households necessarily differing from those were included in the focus group
of men. The relationships between women discussions.
heads of household and their younger 5. In 1996, Guatemala emerged from over
male and female relatives confirm the 30 years of brutal civil war, with the
importance of considering age, as well as signing of peace accords. Deep divisions
gender, in determining how individuals along ethnic lines, between the
are treated within the household. indigenous Mayan population - around
half the total population - and the ladino
Kavita Datta and Cathy Mcllwaine are hispanicised population, lay at the root
lecturers in the Department of Geography, of much of the armed conflict. These
Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End divisions continue to divide Guatemalan
Road, London El 4NS, UK. society, and affect both public and
E-mail: and private lives (Moser and Mcllwaine
c.j. uk 2000).
6. See note 5
7. Kavita Datta gratefully acknowledges
Notes the support of the Nuffield Foundation
1. Most definitions of the household in funding this research.
include some reference to the sharing of
consumption and expenditure, as well as
living space.
2. Identification of the head is often left to Bruce, J. and D. Dwyer (1988),
respondents themselves during the 'Introduction', in Dwyer and Bruce
interviewing process. Such self-reporting, (eds), A Home Divided: Women and Income
while laudable for not enforcing (often in the Third World, Stanford CA: Stanford
Western) definitions of heads, will University Press, 1-19.
invariably be affected by cultural norms Brunn, F., M. Mugabe, and Y. Coombes
and lead to an under-estimation of non- (eds) (1994), The Situation of the Elderly in
traditional household configurations Botswana: Proceedings from an Inter-
such as women-headed households. national Workshop, Oslo: Lobo Grafisk.
3. This refers to control of the family Buvinic, M. and G.R. Gupta (1997),
budget. 'Female-headed households and female
4. This research was conducted under the maintained households: are they worth
auspices of the Urban Peace Program at targeting to reduce poverty in
the World Bank, directed by Caroline developing countries?', Economic
Moser, and funded by the Swedish Development and Cultural Change, 45(2):
International Development Cooperation 259-80.
Agency (SIDA). In Guatemala, the Chant, S. (1997a), Women-Headed Households:
research was carried out in collaboration Diversity and Dynamics in the Developing
with 20 Guatemalan researchers World, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Perspectives on women heading households in Latin America and Southern Africa 49

Chant, S. (1997b), 'Women-headed house- Mencher, J.P and A. Okongwu (eds) (1993),
holds: poorest of the poor? Perspectives Where Did All the Men Go? Women in
from Mexico, Costa Rica and Philippines', Cross-Cultural Perspective, Boulder CO:
IDS Bulletin, 28(3):26-47. Westview Press.
Chant, S. (1999), 'Women-headed Moser, C. and C. Mcllwaine (1999),
households: global orthodoxies and 'Participatory Urban Appraisal and its
grassroots realities', in Afshar and application for research on violence',
Barrientos (eds), Women, Globalization Environment and Urbanization, 11(2):
and Fragmentation in the Developing 203-226.
World, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 91-130. Moser, C. and C. Mcllwaine (2000), Violence
Crewe, E. and E. Harrison (1998), Whose in a Post-Conflict Context: Urban Poor
Aid? An Ethnography of Aid, London: Perceptions From Guatemala, Washington
Zed Books. DC: World Bank.
Central Statistics Office (1982), Migration in ODHAG (1999), Guatemala: Never Again!,
Botswana: Patterns, Causes and London: CIIR.
Consequences, Gaborone: Government Pothukuchi, K. (1992), 'Non-traditional
Printer. living arrangements: beyond the nuclear
Datta, K. (1995a), 'Strategies for urban family', in Dandekar (ed.), Shelter,
survival? Women landlords in Gaborone, Women and Development: First and Third
Botswana', Habitat International, 19(1):1-12. World Perspectives, Ann Arbor: George
Datta, K. (1995b), 'Rural homes and urban Wahr.
dwellings? Gender, migration and the Suggs, D. (1987), 'Female status and role
importance of urban tenure in Gaborone, transition in the Tswana life cycle',
Botswana', International Journal of Ethnology, 26(2): 107-20.
Population Geography, l(2):183-96. Townsend, J.G., et al.(1999), Women and
Datta, K. (1998), 'Gender, labour markets Power: Fighting Patriarchies and Poverty,
and female migration in and from London: Zed Books.
Botswana', in Simon (ed.) South Africa in van Driel, F. (1994), The Poor and the
Southern Africa: Reconfiguring the Region, Powerful: Female-Headed Households
London: James Currey, 206-21. and Unmarried Motherhood in
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the household: observations from rural Entwicklungspolitik.
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Right for Women in Development, London:
Zed Books.

advancing the agenda for gender justice 1
Peggy Antrobus
In this article, I look at the concept of 'transformational leadership'. I share my personal experience of
becoming a leader in the international women's movement, and of women mobilising as a group to
transform the agenda of international development. From these I draw out some lessons which may
help women who wish to transform the world to attain full human rights for all women.

special issue of Trialogue (the newsletter of

n the aftermath of the United Nations
Fourth World Conference on Women, the Association of Women in Development
held in Beijing in 1995, the issue of - AWID), which is devoted to the question
'women's leadership' was placed on the of feminist leadership, Sharron Mendel
agenda. It was to be found in the context of defines the concept as follows: 'Above all,
discussions on governance, or of 'women transformative feminist leaders must
in decision-making'. The assumption actively work to eradicate inequalities,
underlying these discussions was that if placing an analysis of gender relations at
more women were involved in high-level the heart of their actions' (AWID 1999,1).
decision-making - in particular in politics - This article is divided into three parts.
states would be governed more fairly and First, I introduce three theories of social
efficiently, and in addition would make change which will assist us in under-
better and steadier progress towards standing the process of transformational
achieving the goals of the Beijing Platform leadership; second, I reflect on my own
for Action, concerning equality between experience of leadership, and that of a
women and men. diverse network of women, to draw out
This article focuses on a particular form some lessons; and finally, I suggest a way to
of leadership, which advances the proceed within the limitations of the
cause of justice for women, within the current world order, in which global
context of economic globalisation and economic and political institutions seem to
fundamentalism. I am terming this consider that 'trade' has largely replaced
'transformational leadership'. Debates 'development' as the moving force in the
aiming to clarify the concept of women's achievement of the goals of poverty
leadership, what it means and why it is reduction, gender equity, and good
needed, have resulted in a distinction governance.
between transformational styles of leadership
(which can be adopted regardless of the
actual goal), and leadership which is not only
Theories of social change
transformational in style, but has economic, and transformation
political and social transformation as its goal.2 There are many ways of looking at the
This article focuses on the latter. In a process of social change. Each perspective
Transformational leadership: advancing the agenda for gender justice 51

leads us to consider different strategies groups, each defined by the uniquely

to effect change, and the different types shared interest of its members, each with
of methods and leadership that match different and often competing interests or
each of these. In their review, Crowfoot and goals' (op.cit., 81). These groups may be
Chesler (1984) offer an analytical based on race or ethnicity, class, gender, or
framework of social change. While it is clear location, and there are usually imbalances
that reality is more complex than such of power between them, leading to conflict
typologies suggest, I find this one as groups compete to control scarce
particularly useful in understanding resources. Proponents of this approach
different approaches to development, and consider it essential for the state to
understanding what kinds of strategies are intervene, in order to guarantee an
needed to effect transformation in the equitable distribution of goods and
agendas of these organisations, in the services. However, when potential
interests of justice for women. The typology beneficiaries of the state system also operate
contains three approaches to social change: the system, they 'opt for stability rather
the professional-technical, the political, and the than equality in regulating the relations
counter-cultural. among groups and resources. The result is a
high concentration of power in the hands of
The professional-technical approach a few people, or a few interest groups...'
The professional-technical approach to (op.cit., 83), along with a neglect of the
social change considers that society and interests of marginalised groups.
most of its organisations and institutions Proponents of the political approach to
are basically sound, but that they need to be social change consider positive change as
enabled to cope better with ongoing only possible when this process is
change. This is the conventional approach understood, and when those in power are
to the project of 'development' in the South. willing to give up some of their privileges
A key aspect is the assumption that a in the interest of the common good. The
certain type of person has the intellect, fact that gender relations are inherently
skills, and expertise to make decisions on unequal makes this approach essential in
behalf of others. This type of person may be the struggle for women's rights.
from a developing country itself, or be a
foreigner, but either way, he or she has The counter-cultural approach
been educated according to the dominant The counter-cultural approach to social
ideology of global development along change is one which is based on affirming
capitalist lines, and subscribes to its values the importance of cultural values - and
and dictates. This powerful perspective on especially those of marginalised groups or
social change is difficult to challenge, minorities - in shaping social change.
because it is backed up by a global Proponents of this approach are suspicious
economic system that is deeply entrenched, of technocratic and bureaucratic
and constantly reinforced by the benefits it approaches, and concepts of 'progress',
brings to those in power. It is also since they consider these to lead to the
strengthened by the social, cultural, and marginalisation of local or indigenous
political relations and moral obligations knowledge, a decrease in people's initiative
that are interlinked with the economic and creativity, and the inhibiting of women
system (Crowfoot and Chesler 1984). and men from marginalised groups from
realising their full human potential.
The political approach Proponents of the counter-cultural
The political approach to social change perspective place emphasis on the
acknowledges the existence of 'different importance of individual change - in

personal values, lifestyles, and relation- process of social change would be

ships with others - if wider social change acknowledged. The political perspective
is to be effected. They emphasise the highlights the fact that it is particularly
important role played by community difficult to promote transformation
organisations in the building and within institutions that are heavily
re-building blocks of a new society, where professional-technical in their approach to
no-one is alienated (ibid). To the extent development. This is because gender
that we recognise common 'feminine' equality is not a technical issue, concerned
traits, intuitions, and attributes among only with gender roles and the sexual
women of all cultures, we must ac- division of labour. Those who promote it
knowledge the legitimacy of this approach are following a radical agenda, concerned
for women. We must also assert the with challenging the imbalance of power
importance of women's perspectives in between women and men.
building a new society. In addition, since the political
perspective also emphasises the role of
Assessing potential for the state, it reminds us that our goals are
harder to attain now that economic
transformation globalisation is increasingly undermining
Looking at the three perspectives the ability of our governments to guarantee
separately helps us identify more clearly that the basic needs of their populations
the different approaches to global will be met, and are negating the links
change that different institutions adopt. between economic, social, and political
This helps us understand what is needed development.
to effect transformation of the global The counter-cultural perspective
system to attain gender equality. reminds us that asserting women's values
Inequality harms individuals, comm- and the existence of an alternative, 'female',
unities, and nations. Thus, women's culture is an essential part of the process
empowerment is central to development of transformation. Those working within
interventions. However, if we look at the the institutional structures of the state
mainstream institutions that distribute and international agencies cannot be
development resources, including govern- counted on to challenge the patriarchal
ments and the United Nations, we can see culture to which these institutions belong.
they are dominated by ideologies and While women who are prepared to do this
policies that are shaped by the professional- are a small minority, other women in
technical perspective. There is little chance formal positions of leadership and
that policies and programmes based decision-making may be influenced to be
exclusively on a professional-technical more sensitive to gender issues, and more
approach can lead to transformation, since responsive to the needs and realities of
they fail to acknowledge the implications of women and their communities. Meanwhile,
both power imbalances between groups, as the small minority who dare to 'challenge
well as cultural differences, in mediating or the given'3 have exercised transformational
determining policy outcomes. leadership within these very institutions of
In contrast, the political perspective the UN and national governments. Such
on social change would start by women have found ways of combining
acknowledging the gendered imbalances of professional-technical, political, and
power between men and women and counter-cultural approaches in their own
recognise the need for these to be work, to ensure that they influence
addressed if change is to be equitable. organisations that are male-biased and
The validity of feminist politics to the professional-technical in their approach.
Transformational leadership: advancing the agenda for gender justice 53

Transformational participation in decision-making. So, while

leadership in action the bureaucrats tried to undermine their
agenda, the women within the party
In the next two sections, I will give two continued to monitor and press for real
examples of ways in which women have change. One of their first acts was to
worked together to pursue transformation. challenge the government's sponsorship of
The first draws on my personal experience beauty contests. Another was to change the
of the early stages of the work of the name of their organisation from 'Women's
Jamaican Women's Bureau. The second Auxiliary' to 'Women's Movement'. This
looks at the international level, focusing on change was not merely semantic; it
women's mobilisation and organisation reflected a shift from being an organisation
prior to the International Conference on that was assumed to give unquestioned
Population and Development (ICPD), held loyalty and support to its political party
in Cairo in 1994. The experiences discussed (for example, in fund-raising, or
in this section have a number of lessons for persuading women to vote in support of
those of us who are interested in promoting the party and its male leadership) to one
transformational feminist leadership. that claimed a share of the decision-making
power on the direction of the party.
Transforming a bureaucracy front within The women I worked with taught me
- the Jamaican Women's Bureau where the real power lay; but they also
In 1974, I had no background in the taught me something about the limits of
women's movement: I had never even that power, and how a unit within the
heard the word 'feminist'. Without the bureaucracy could facilitate a process of
national or political affiliations to qualify social change, drawing on the power of
for the post, I was invited to take up the women within a political party.
position of Adviser on Women's Affairs to
the Government of Jamaica. Although the Transforming an international agenda:
government of the time had a strong Women's Voices for Cairo, 1994
commitment to the principles of equity, The second example of transforming
social justice, and participation, I leadership looks at the joint work of
sometimes think it was my lack of feminists, women's organisations, and
qualifications that must have appealed to development workers from NGOs and
those within the bureaucracy whose governments, at the international level. All
intention was to subvert the process of these brought formidable technical and
women's political empowerment. professional skills to redrafting the Cairo
The process of personal transformation Platform For Action, and influencing
that took place happened without the help bureaucrats within the UN system, prior
of formal training programmes to give me to ICPD. They also used their political
skills in gender analysis, without skills to counter the work of fundamentalist
significant financial resources, and without alliances, which had formed for the
an enabling environment. What I did have purpose of derailing the conference. This
was the support of a political women's interaction led to the transformation of the
movement, which existed as a microcosm agenda at Cairo, from a focus on population
within the ruling party. These women were control to a focus on women's reproductive
intent on ensuring that their party health, rights, and empowerment.
understood that its professed commitment The story begins at the 'Earth Summit' -
to social justice would be meaningless the UN Conference on Environment and
without a commitment to women's Development (UNCED) held in Rio in 1992.
equality and women's full and equal In the wake of that conference, women's

health advocates realised that if environ- throughout the preparations for ICPD. The
mental issues were linked to the population network had a Herculean task: in addition
control agenda at the conference, this to 'neutralising' the arguments of the
would have a devastating impact on Vatican (which, as the ICPD process moved
women's lives. The population control on, was being joined by other conservative
lobby were seeking additional resources bodies), it had to appease the more radical
for their programmes, and were seizing fringes of the women's movement (which
the opportunity presented by the concerns condemned any interaction with the United
of environmentalists about population Nations Fund for Population Action
pressures on the environment to use the (UNFPA) and the traditional family planning
Malthusian argument about the relation- system). The network also had to contend
ship between population growth and with misinformation from organisations
environmental degradation.4 This argument whose vested interests were threatened by
ignores the inequality in consumption approaches that went beyond family
patterns between post-industrialised and planning, to focus on reproductive rights.
Third World countries. It has resulted in the The network succeeded, through the
design of population control policies that most incredible combination of formidable
target poor women in developing countries professional knowledge, analytical and
as the major culprits contributing to high technical skills in research, writing and
birth rates. communications skills, political skills in
The threat to women lay in the fact that advocacy, building strategies, building
this view was opposed by two forces alliances and negotiating, and above all
completely opposed in their attitudes to a 'counter-cultural' commitment to women,
women's reproductive health and rights. focusing on protecting women's lives.
These are the Vatican, and high-profile In their own countries, members of the
leaders in the women's health movement. network worked with health-care
The Vatican argued, jointly with progressive professionals in ministries of health and
NGOs, and Southern feminists, that the in family planning programmes, and
greatest threat to the environment was not with NGOs in different constituencies.
the high fertility rates of the poor in the In the First Prepcom (preparatory
South, but the consumption patterns of the committee) for ICPD, held in April 1993,
rich in the North. women in the network worked hard to re-
However, Southern feminists also frame the document prepared by UNFPA,
sharply criticised the abuse and coercion of and to propose amendments to it. They
women through imposition of harmful followed the preparatory process at
contraceptive technologies - a key feature international level, throughout 1994,
of population control policies. This critique moving from a Strategy Conference in Rio
was used by the Vatican to add weight to in January, to the Second Prepcom in May,
its opposition to all forms of fertility control and finally to the Conference itself in Cairo
(except so-called 'natural' methods). in September. At the Conference, feminist
Together, feminist activists and women health advocates worked with government
began to create a counter-strategy: one that delegations at the UN, and women's
would simultaneously challenge abusive movements in global capital cities. The
population policies and assert women's result, against all odds, was the delivery of
right to safe, affordable, effective, and a document that adopted a new framework
accessible contraceptives. The result was a of human development approaches
statement, 'Women's Voices for Cairo 94', combined with a commitment to women's
which provided a common foundation for 'health, rights, empowerment and
lobbying at national and global levels accountability'.
Transformational leadership: advancing the agenda for gender justice 55

Implications for leadership been of no use. Certainly, they would not

have led me to take the risks, or develop
What lessons can we take from the above the strategies, that I now consider essential
examples of women forging a path through to the promotion of an agenda to take us to
the potentially disabling environment we that world of which we dream.
live in, of economic globalisation, rising The third lesson from the case studies
fundamentalism, and decreasing levels of discussed here is that in order to promote
state accountability to their populations? transformational leadership within the
First, as my first case-study shows, government bodies and international
transformational leadership is possible institutions that govern our world, we need
within bureaucracies. It can be discerned strategies, including alliance- and coalition-
when women who work within these building. These link the work of govern-
apparently monolithic organisations step ments and NGOs, feminists and traditional
forward to challenge sexism and discri- women's organisations, researchers and
mination there; and when they are willing activists, parliamentarians, women who
to risk their jobs, status or popularity, in the work within major bureaucracies at all
defence of women's human rights. levels, and the women's movement, both
Second, transformational leadership locally and globally. The work of our
often seems to emerge as a response networks should draw on the different
to crises, or events that present an strengths of women in all these areas of
opportunity. Yet success at these moments work, and needs to combine professional-
is founded on a much longer process of technical approaches with political and
development and struggle. There must be counter-cultural approaches.
resources available for building the What is required to effect political,
capacity of women to lead transformation, economic, and social change is a
so that organisations can be responsive to combination of qualities, including
needs that arise at critical moments. intellectual clarity and technical know-
Organisations and individuals promoting ledge, political acumen, women's spiritual
transformational feminist leadership within strengths, and values of solidarity, caring,
bureaucracies must be alert to the potential and co-operation.
in women at the early stages of that process
- women who are beginning to question
patriarchal privilege, and challenge gender- How to proceed?
based hierarchies. This article has argued that to seek to
Women's leadership is a different transform women who wear the title of
concept from transformational feminist 'leader' within formal bureaucratic
leadership - being a woman does not make structures is an important objective.
one a feminist. My own transformation - However, as it has pointed out,
personal, professional, and political - was 'transforming' women leaders in formal
influenced first by the working-class bureaucratic structures in the sense of
Jamaican women with whom I worked, and influencing them to take up feminist goals
second by the intellectual leadership of the is not adequate to bring about
Third World women's movement. My transformation of the structures and
transformation resulted in a deepening institutions that perpetuate women's
feminist consciousness, and commitment inequality, marginalisation, and power-
to an agenda for social change. Without this lessness. Women in leadership positions
process of gradual awakening to feminism, within governments and development
the professional skills and theoretical bureaucracies who take up the political
understanding that I now have would have struggle for women's equality need also to

acknowledge the structural limitations of Beijing, we need to recognise this and

their position within these bureaucracies. distinguish between different strategies -
The introduction of gender-sensitive those that lead to transformation, and those
training and management systems has not that are unlikely to do so - and between
resulted in agencies and governments those women who are most likely to lead us
standing up to assault by the forces of on a transformational path, and those who
fundamentalism, determined to reverse prefer to remain within the status quo.
gains for women negotiated in the UN
global conferences of the 1990s. In addition Peggy Antrobus has been a feminist activist in
to technical training, those who wish to the Latin America and Caribbean region for
further a feminist agenda require a over twenty years. She is a founding member of
commitment to the values of caring, DAWN (Development Alternatives with
sharing, and cooperation, rather than those Women for a New Era). WAND/DAWN,
of selfishness, greed, and competition. School of Continuing Studies, University of the
Women within the structures of govern- West Indies, Pinelands, St Michael, Barbados.
ment and international agencies need to E-mail:
recognise the contradictions inherent in
international programmes that purport to
promote gender equity, poverty alleviation, Notes
and an end to violence, while governments 1 This article is based on a paper prepared
continue to pursue policies and pro- for UNIFEM.
grammes that take them further from those 2 With thanks to Audrey Roberts who
goals. One of the problems activists and helped clarify this distinction.
radicals have faced over the past few years 3 This phrase was the title of DAWN's
has been the tendency for words to be co- contribution to the UN Social Summit in
opted and taken out of context, to serve Copenhagen.
purposes that are the opposite from those 4 See Correa 1994 for more information on
for which they were intended. Such words Malthus and population control, and
include 'participation' and 'empowerment', feminist responses to this theory.
as well as 'transformation'.
Building bridges is necessary, between References and further
women bureaucrats and those women
working beyond the structures of
government and international agencies, Correa, Sonia (1994), Population and
who are therefore better placed to challenge Reproductive Rights: Feminist Perspectives
these institutions and to hold governments from the South, London: Zed Books.
accountable. We also need to acknowledge Crowfoot, J.E. and M.A. Chesler (1974),
limitations that exist in the NGOs that have 'Contemporary perspectives on planned
adopted a commitment to gender equity, social chance: a comparison', Journal of
and even within the multi-faceted women's Applied Behavioral Science, 10(3):278-303.
movement, which seeks to incorporate DAWN (1994), Challenging the Given,
women of different classes, races, political Dominican Republic: CEREP.
affiliations, sexual orientation, and DAWN Informs, Issue 2, 1998 and Issue 1,
ideological tendencies. The fact is that the 1999, Fiji: University of the South Pacific.
women's movement is far from monolithic, Sen, Gita and Caren Grown (1987),
and if we are to move towards our vision, Develoment, Crises and Alternative Visions:
or advance the agendas we adopted in Third World Women's Perspectives,
Cairo, Rio, Vienna, Copenhagen, and New York: Monthly Review Press.

Leadership for adolescent

the role of secondary schools in Uganda
Jill Sperandio
In countries of both the developed and developing world, success in secondary school is still seen
largely in terms of examination results. However, schools have the potential to promote leadership in
many different ways. In addition to formal qualifications, students gain many other skills and
attributes during the years they spend in education. An important part of this 'hidden curriculum'
in effective schools is the provision of motivation and opportunities to learn how to be a leader.
Schools can adopt and promote clearly articulated beliefs, values, and expectations, which equip
pupils to lead in later life. They may provide leadership training through appointing pupils as
prefects, class monitors, and leaders of clubs and activities, and may provide role models for pupils -
administrators, teachers, prominent students, and visitors - who promote leadership by example.

was a teacher in Ugandan secondary the lives of the women who experienced
schools during the 1960s, when they them. How did they remember their school
first took in significant numbers of days? Did they believe that their secondary
female students. There was - and continues education had empowered them in ways
to be - a wide gender gap in education in other than the provision of academic
Uganda. Statistics show a ratio of 60:100 credentials? And what of their daughters?
girls to boys in secondary education Were schools still perceived as providing
(United Nations 1998). However, the opportunities for developing leadership
secondary schools I taught in offered potential among female students? In what
considerable opportunities for girls from ways did the schools of today teach
rural backgrounds to see women in or model leadership? Given the difficulties
leadership roles, and experience leadership faced by many girls in developing
for themselves, at a time when there were countries in completing a secondary
few outlets for women to take on such education and achieving a career, these
roles. The skills and attributes that girls aspects of schooling merit attention from
learn in school contribute to their ability to all those involved in increasing the
shape their lives (Cohn and Rossmiller efficiency of education for girls.
1987), enhancing students' ability to
achieve success not only in school, but also
afterwards in wider society. Research methods
When I returned to Uganda in 1997 to To assess the relative importance of each of
undertake research into the survival and these facets of school leadership to the
development of secondary schools during current population of female students in
the previous 25 years, I was anxious to secondary schools in Uganda, I visited
discover if these opportunities had shaped nine secondary schools, in three regions of

the country. The schools included co- Vision, ethos, and identity
educational day schools, co-educational
boarding schools, and all-girls' boarding A strong sense of identity, and clearly
schools. A total of 590 female pupils in their articulated aims and objectives, have
fourth year of secondary school were asked frequently been identified as characteristics
to complete a questionnaire designed to of effective schools in Europe and North
examine student perceptions of the roles America (Gaddy 1988). Schools that
played by teachers and administrators, as provide their students with a sense of
well as their peers, in providing example security, enable them to identify with the
and direction. Male and female teachers institution, foster co-operation and
and administrators in the schools (120 in individual responsibility, and provide an
total) gave me interviews and completed environment focused on learning, can
questionnaires, and provided access to favourably influence student attitudes
school documents and publications that and outcomes. The methods used by
provided insights into the ways in which secondary schools in the Ugandan study to
the school identity and ethos were being create a sense of school identity appear,
projected. The girls were also asked about in many instances, to have been derived
any prominent figures in the community from those of the British 'public schools',2
whom they had been made aware of, either on which the first Ugandan boarding
through these people visiting the school, or schools were modelled. Compulsory school
through reading newspapers and watching uniform, with each school adopting its
television at school (Sperandio 1998). own colour scheme and clothing
requirements, school mottoes and songs,
Tracking down women who had school traditions, and the enforcement
obtained a secondary education during the of standards of behaviour deemed
1960s proved more challenging. The appropriate to the aims and objectives of
intervening years had seen civil war, the school, are all methods used to
economic crisis, and the HIV/AIDS reinforce the individual identity of
epidemic, all of which had disrupted particular institutions.
contacts and forced emigrations. However,
the economic hardship faced by the schools
that I had selected for study had prompted Linking moral and
several of them to appeal to their alumni academic education
for help and I found several newly created
'old girls' 1 associations. Attending a In the Ugandan schools surveyed, well-
meeting of one of these groups gave an documented rules and regulations, which
indication of the willingness of these make high demands on the students and
Ugandan women to take an active part in state the aims and goals of the school, were
the support of institutions that they associated with a positive atmosphere in
believed had played an important role in the schools, and in turn, with students who
empowering their lives. The associations were self-confident and motivated. If a
also provided a wealth of contacts, and school convinces its students that it has
opportunities to arrange questionnaires high expectations of them, cares about
them as individuals, and will supply the
and interviews to explore their perceptions
information and skills they need to make
of how secondary schooling had shaped
informed decisions about their future,
their subsequent life events.
students'confidence and expectations rise,
and academic results improve. This effect is
clearly articulated in an interview with an
'old girl' of one of the girls' boarding
Leadership for adolescent girls: the role of secondary schools in Uganda 59

schools surveyed, in which she describes 'Work Not Words':

her experiences in the 1960s:
Everywhere and at all times, you are expected to
As soon as I stepped inside the gates ofN... I display exemplary behaviours, good manners
knew I would qualify for the University ... the and courtesy. You are expected to maintain and
teachers were always there for us, my fellow enhance the academic excellence for which you
students were ever ready to help, and as for the were admitted in this school. Hopeless academic
administration - it was always ready to remind performance may lead to demotion, repeating or
us of what brought us to school. Apart from advice to try something else ... Students who go
academics, I was groomed with the proper socialabout misbehaving in public are deliberately
etiquette and proper manners of how to deal waging war against this school. They are
with what, where and when. therefore our sworn enemies. Their names must
be struck from our books.
This same school, still noted for its high
academic achievement despite 20 years of Other schools in the survey had similar
physical neglect, continues to provide a preambles. The rules and regulations at
clear statement of its perceived aims and another girls' boarding school noted: 'Rules
leadership role in fostering social values, of life cannot be listed here, but it goes
as well as academic learning. Its rules and without saying and should be understood
regulations begin: by all that if a community is to live
peacefully then there should be respect for
... the following rules and regulations are everyone, irrespective of backgrounds,
devised to help us all (teachers, parents, position, or any other differences. It is
students, etc..) achieve the National Education therefore expected that students respect any
objectives. Our ultimate aim as a school is to in authority over them, and all that may
produce all-rounded educated young ladies, who seem to be under them.'
are ... healthy in body, personality and
behaviour, who would be able to survive and live While the language might seem strong
happily and comfortably in our society and the and emotive, ex-students felt positive about
world at large. Young people who have not the sense of self-discipline and duty that
reached adulthood are still fumbling with the had been expected at school, and argued
process of developing a value system of their that this had stood them in good stead
own based on the established moral and social during their subsequent lives. One woman
codes of our society. Their success depends very stated, ' the course of an education,
much on the effectiveness of the guidelines discipline was considered very important in
provided by the already experienced adults such building in us a sense of duty. This has
as parents, teachers, etc.... The school rules and assisted me in the raising of my own
regulations are some of the guidelines devised children, and in my duties at work.'
for that purpose, therefore, all students are Another woman echoed these sentiments:
expected to observe them for their own mental, 'I learnt that discipline is the key to success
physical and social development hence becoming in the modern world. In routines and work
all-rounded educated women. habits, in working towards a desired goal.'
Schools placed a high premium on their
Most of the schools that I surveyed take leadership role in creating a tolerant society
very seriously their duty to inculcate moral where abuse and victimisation are not
and social values in students. This is seen as permitted. One ex-student told me: 'Above
a function that is important as fostering all, my secondary school taught me how to
academic excellence, and the two aims are live in a community to overcome tribal and
interlinked. This can be seen in the rules religious prejudices, and to appreciate
and regulations for a co-educational day values different from mine. Community life
school, which has a school motto of also involved learning to share, to help the

less fortunate, to avoid harmful talk. All of are stressed in some school rules. These
this was invaluable for a girl, especially one send a message that the school is more
with ambitions.' It is ironic that some interested in controlling students rather
school rules and regulations intended to than guiding them towards self-discipline
challenge prejudice actually perpetuate and co-operation. For example, the rules at
negative ideas about tradition and rural one co-educational day school in Kampala
life. The first school quoted above states in state: 'Pregnant girls must leave school
its rules:' ... teasing is an obsolete primitive immediately with their boyfriends. All
practice that is not allowed in this School'; forms of sexual immorality will lead to
and ' ... shouting at other people and use expulsion.' Rules at another co-educational
of dirty insulting language are unbecoming day and boarding school state: 'Any girl
in a civilised society. Leave your village life student who is medically proved to be
at your home. You will be punished for it if pregnant shall be liable to expulsion from
you import it to B... community.' the school. Any girl who is medically
When schools choose to provide clear proved to have had an abortion,
leadership to students in regard to self- voluntarily or involuntarily, shall be liable
discipline, duty, and community, they may to expulsion from school.'
well enhance long-term outcomes for their Such regulations, designed to instil fear
students. Another woman who had of the consequences rather than a desire to
completed her education in 1975, and was encourage pride in belonging to a
now a full-time teacher, stated that her community, with high expectations of its
school: members, may be less effective in
producing positive long-term outcomes
... certainly made me see things differently,
than those in schools where the rules are
such as sex roles, family size, nutrition,
designed to be a guide to self-discipline. A
courtship, and marriage. It made me want an
easier lifestyle for myself, as well as making me
group of senior girls from one of the
realise my duty to my extended family. I got
schools surveyed, which had restrictive
committed to doing my best financially, rules and penalties designed to humiliate
morally, etc., to help the young ones to study students, expressed very negative feelings
with a purpose. Without that education, I about the school, despite its high academic
would not have met my husband or any of the achievements.
contacts that I have now. Of course, the written rules and
regulations are only a part of the wider
Opportunities for leadership in clubs system of regulation that exists in an
and activities, taking responsibility for institution. For example, pregnancy was
other students and for the smooth running not mentioned in the rules and regulations
of the school when they were appointed of the girls-only boarding schools in my
prefects, and the making of long-lasting research, but these schools did require
friendships with other girls, were returning students to be examined by the
additional benefits that ex-students felt had school nurse to ensure that they were not
accrued from attending schools they pregnant, with the object of protecting the
believed had actively worked to promote reputation of the school and of individual
their well-being. male teachers from charges of immorality.
In contrast, the rules and regulations in
other schools stress prohibitions and Women staff as leaders and
penalties, more than valuing personal
development. Prohibitions on female
role models
hairstyles, dress, the use of cosmetics and Research from a number of countries
jewellery, and the penalties for pregnancy suggests that women teachers can act as
Leadership for adolescent girls: the role of secondary schools in Uganda 61

important role models for secondary school 'dropping out', possibly changing schools
girls, particularly in mathematics and or returning at a later time and having to
science (Fuller, Hua, and Snyder 1994). My continue with a younger cohort. Many
findings suggest a rather more complex students appreciated head teachers who
situation. When students were asked to showed an awareness of these problems,
explain why they admired a particular and a willingness to intervene with parents,
person in the school community, their the school board, and outside agencies to
answers fell into two groups, unconnected ensure a continuous education. Students
to the gender of the admired person, or also noted with appreciation head teachers'
whether they were student, teacher, or strong leadership of the school, setting
administrator. The students admired of high standards and expectations in
people primarily for being well organised, achievement and behaviour, and
well disciplined, and professional, and mobilising of the support of government
secondly, for being caring, thoughtful, and community agencies to help the school.
and helpful. While the survey dealt It should of course be pointed out that
primarily with the issue of role models and while only female teachers can serve as role
leadership within schools, it seems likely models to female students, good academic
that, had girls been given the choice, many results and pastoral care can also be given
would have named people outside of the by male head teachers who are sympathetic
school context as being 'most admired'. to the issues female students face, yet retain
high expectations of them.
Female heads of school
Of the schools surveyed, only the girls' Teachers
boarding schools had female heads The picture was not so clear when it came
of school. All the remaining schools had to assistant teachers. In Uganda today,
women in the position of deputy head, female teachers do not command the
or as a senior teacher with special respect as working women that they may
responsibility for the female students. get elsewhere. Secondary school teaching
The combination of power and influence has never been regarded as a high status
clearly wielded by female head teachers, occupation in Uganda. During the early
combined with the caring, mothering years of expansion of the secondary school
image they could project if they so chose, system in the 1960s, those few students
made them attractive role models to a who completed secondary education or
number of students. who graduated from university would
I also explored the many ways in which apply for administrative positions in
a dynamic head teacher in the East African government, rather than for teaching jobs.
context, in addition to serving as a role This was true for girls as well as boys, even
model for their students, could influence though teaching was one of the few
both academic and social outcomes for occupations open to girls at this time, and
students in their schools. Strong leadership one that many of the girls' schools
in schools can offset poor facilities and promoted actively totheir students as a
lack of materials and so maintain high means of aiding the development of the
morale, to the particular benefit of female country. By 1970, 90 per cent of the
students. Interviews revealed that female teachers in Ugandan secondary schools
students are often victims of their parents' were expatriate. Most were British teachers
inability or unwillingness to pay fees, or of on fixed-term contracts, and volunteers
unwanted pregnancy, or of pressure to from the United States, Canada, Britain,
marry early, all of which could lead to the and Scandinavia. These teachers left in
termination of their education, or to 1972, due to the deteriorating security

situation following Idi Amin's expulsion of The issue of female teachers acting as
the Ugandan Asian community, and the role models may also be a more complex
withdrawal of international donors' one than has been found in some other
support to the country. Schools replaced contexts, including so-called 'developed'
them with Ugandan staff. countries (Fuller, Hua, and Snyder 1994).
Women whom I spoke to who had Women teachers do not tend to be present
completed their education during the in the science and mathematics areas where
1960s and 1970s differed from the female they might be the most influential in
students of today in their perceptions of reassuring girls that these subjects are
the teachers. Many noted the importance of accessible to them. In the schools surveyed,
well-qualified teachers in guiding them. there were very few female mathematics
One woman noted: ' I was greatly and science teachers.
influenced by the American teachers who In eight of the nine schools surveyed, a
taught us to be self-reliant and supervise high percentage of girls chose a peer rather
our lives, instead of waiting for someone to than a woman teacher as the person they
tell you what to do. This made me what I most admired. Negative perceptions of
am now, self-employed and employing women teachers by female students, and
four other girls, who I tell constantly to vice versa, may not encourage students to
work hard and set up their own places identify with women teachers, or want to
in future'. Another woman noted: ' ... the use them as role models. Women teachers
teachers made the strongest impression on frequently appeared in girls' accounts in a
me. They were well disciplined and negative light, as enforcers of discipline.
demanded the best from us, but were also Current pupils interviewed at a rural co-
kind and always prepared to listen to our educational boarding school agreed that
problems and fears'. A third said: ' ... the they preferred male teachers, because
teachers were not only neat and women were stricter in their enforcement
disciplined, but also knew their subject of discipline, and 'are rude to us'. Women
matter very well'. teachers can, of course, be seen in a
In contrast, interviews with girls different, positive light as enforcers of
currently attending the nine schools discipline and high standards, perhaps
surveyed revealed a comparative lack of reflecting the knowledge gained through
respect for women teachers today. The girls their own experiences of what is necessary
often despised female teachers for being to compete successfully in the education
unfashionably dressed - smart dress being system. This experience could, in the long
associated with being well-to-do. While run, help the girls they teach to succeed.
the teacher shortage in the early 1970s This was recognised by the adult ex-students
might have been expected to increase quoted earlier, who often associated
salaries and the desirability of the discipline at school with high standards.
profession, this did not prove to be the case. There was a perception among female
Salaries were paid by the government and, students today that women teachers were
as the Ugandan economy collapsed in the unsympathetic to their problems. Many
1970s and early 1980s, teachers were paid students thought women teachers were not
less and less frequently, with no adjustment particularly close to their students, and
for rapid inflation. Teachers are forced to were more involved with their own
take additional employment, often working families. Women teachers, especially those
at several schools, or farming, and their in remote rural areas, face gender issues
obvious poverty further decreases their which affect their professional lives. Female
status among their peers and students. teachers are less likely than men to stay for
a long period of time at one school; if they
Leadership for adolescent girls: the role of secondary schools in Uganda 63

had done, they might have become more ask questions, showed fewer leadership
closely associated with the students. The skills, and co-operated less with the
headmistress of a prominent girls' boarding teacher. These findings showed strong
school, where two-thirds of the teachers are similarities with studies of teacher attitudes
women, noted that the main cause of in Malawi and Zimbabwe (Gordon 1995).
teachers' leaving tended to be the
unwillingness of the husbands of newly-
married women teachers to leave the
Role models outside
capital city to come to the more isolated schools
and rural school site. Uganda has a highly articulate and clearly
A comment frequently made by current visible women's movement, which devel-
pupils in interviews was that women oped out of the liberation struggle in the
teachers were 'jealous' of them, because the country at the end of the Amin regime,
male teachers were more attracted to their during the mid-1980s, when women
female students. I was told by the same were directly involved in the military
senior girls quoted above that several of organisation of the National Revolutionary
them had been asked for sexual favours by Movement, and in the local Revolutionary
male teachers, and when these were Councils. The party, once in power,
denied, the teachers concerned had promoted women politically through the
embarrassed the girls in class. The issue of formation of a Ministry to represent
sexual harassment of girl students by male women's interests, by allotting places
teachers is constantly in the newspapers in within the ruling party to women, and by
Uganda; in a visit to Uganda in July this offering lower admission standards to
year, the first newspaper I picked up had a women wishing to enter university.
headline, 'Headmaster marries student: However, while women have been brought
parents protest', introducing a story about a into political leadership at various levels,
head teacher who was accused of sexually the rules, structures and practices of
harassing other pupils. From my interviews government continue to reflect an older,
with current students, it seems that girls more exclusionary vision of politics,
enjoy the attention they perceive they are making it more difficult for women to
given by male teachers, but that this can assert their interests (Trip 2000).
very quickly turn sour. One of the many variables external to
At one school, the senior girls the school situation that could influence the
complained very bitterly about the male way in which teenage girls in Uganda
teaching staff, noting that these teachers assess their life chances and plan their
gave girls over-harsh punishments. They futures is contact with women involved in
also believed that most of them had been professions other than teaching, and
forced into doing arts subjects because the political activism. Indeed, the role of the
male teachers were prejudiced about girls' women's movement in monitoring and
capacity to do mathematics or sciences. shaping the development of gender-
In fact, a recent survey of teacher beliefs equitable education policy itself was
about male and female students indicates recognised in a government White Paper
little difference between male and female on Education in 1992.
teachers in their view that girls were less At the time of the survey, Uganda had
able students than boys. Girls in secondary a female deputy prime minister, who
schools were perceived as being less featured prominently in the newspaper
intelligent, found it more difficult to learn, along with other women politicians. I did
were less ambitious, were shyer in class, not speak to any student with a desire to
spent less time studying, were less likely to enter politics. It was noticeable that female

students in schools that had been visited Jill Sperandio is a teacher, administrator, and
by a group of women lawyers on career researcher on education, based in Azerbaijan.
days articulated a higher level of interest International School of Azerbaijan, PB Amoco
in careers in the profession. This group had Azerbaijan, Chertsey Road, Sunbury on
developed a system of clinics offering legal Thames, Middlesex TW16 7LN, UK.
aid to women in the Kampala area. They E-mail:
contributed regular columns to the
newspapers, answering readers' queries or Notes
describing legal and commercial procedures.
1 The term 'old girls' refers to former
Conclusion 2 The term 'Public schools' is used here to
denote schools that are outside the state
Where girls are struggling to gain parity
system, attended by fee-paying students.
with boys in the context of educational
This term originated in the UK.
outcomes, schools can adopt an important
leadership role in promoting gender
equality. They can articulate a commitment
to this through rules and regulations, Cohn, E. and A. Rossmiller (1987),
through school philosophies and mission 'Research on effective schools:
statements pledging commitment to implications for less developed
ensuring equality of opportunities to all countries', Comparative Education Review,
students, and to the expectation of equal 31(3).
degrees of success, regardless of sex. They Fuller, B., Haiyan Hua, and C.W. Snyder
can ensure that leadership opportunities (1994), 'When girls learn more than boys:
for students are apportioned equally to the influence of time in school and
both boys and girls. Schools can take a lead pedagogy in Botswana', Comparative
in sensitising teachers, and particularly Education Review, 38(3).
female teachers, to the special needs of Gaddy, G.D. (1988), 'High school order and
secondary school girls, encouraging female academic achievement', American Journal
teachers to appreciate that the provision of Education, 96(4).
of a caring and encouraging learning Gordon, R. (1995), 'Causes of girls'
environment may be as empowering as academic underachievement: the
being a role model. Schools can actively influence of teachers' attitudes and
promote an understanding of the expectations on the academic perform-
possibilities open to women by exposing ance of secondary school girls',
students, through visits and the use of Occasional Paper No. 8, Harare: HRRC.
newspapers and television, to women Rosenholtz, S. (1985), 'Effective schools:
leaders in politics, the professions and the interpreting the evidence', American
community - not only in their own country, Journal of Education, 93(3).
but around the world. Schools themselves Sperandio, J. (1998), 'Girls' Secondary
need leadership, however, and educational Education in Contemporary Uganda:
policy makers need to make clear their Unintended Outcomes of Well-
expectations of school headsand school intentioned Policy', unpublished Ph.D.
boards, provide examples of good practice, dissertation, University of Chicago.
and publicly reward those schools that can
Trip, A. (2000), Women and Politics in
demonstrate that they have improved
Uganda, James Currey and Fountain
academic and non-academic outcomes for
their female students.
UNDP (1998), Human Development Report
1998, New York: OUP.

The leadership role of

international law in
enforcing women's rights:
the Optional Protocol to the Women's
Kwong-Leung Tang
In October 1999, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the 1979
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (otherwise known
as the Women's Convention). As of September 2000, 62 states have signed the Optional Protocol,
and nine of these have ratified it. Women's rights activists hope that through the Protocol, the
international legal system will lead governments to address the issue of violence against women and
other violations of their rights. This article charts the development of the Optional Protocol, and
assesses the difference it will make to women who face violations of their human rights.

However, international tolerance of

ver the past three decades,
discrimination against women has discrimination against women has been
become a global human rights persistent. Historically, the United Nations
issue. Women in many countries, has rarely become involved in a country's
developed and developing, have their internal affairs to enforce international
rights constantly violated at domestic or human rights law, since this represents a
international levels. In most countries, violation of state sovereignty (Plattner
women are marginalised economically, 1995). In the past, many countries have been
culturally, and politically, and these norms able to turn a blind eye to international
. are resilient to change. International law is campaigns on women's rights by success-
often more progressive than national laws fully using the argument that states have a
are (Charlesworth 1994), and feminists right to govern themselves as they wish,
generally agree that international law is which effectively shuts out criticisms from
needed as a weapon against systemic outside. An international common effort
oppression. In national governments, has been called for in recent years, to adapt
women have failed to attain political the international human rights laws in
positions in any significant numbers, while order to introduce positive changes to
outside the political structure, women enforce women's rights. As Miles (1996:145)
are under-represented in power centres correctly observed: 'We need global
such as trade union leadership (Trebilcock solidarity / support for our local struggles.'
1991). The argument is that by relying on Progress in bringing violations of women's
international law, women's advocates can rights to the attention of the international
potentially overcome the limitations built community has been largely due to the
into a domestic legal system. persistent action of women's organisations

around the world. Women activists have 'the definitive international legal
highlighted the fact that no international instrument requiring respect for, and
human rights treaty had comprehensively observance of, the human rights of women'
addressed women's rights within political, (Cook 1990, 643).
cultural, economic, social, and family life, Within one year of signing the
or obligated countries to take action to end Convention, states have to report to the
discrimination against women. UN Committee on the Elimination and
Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
on their efforts to meet its goals. Thereafter,
The 'Women's Convention' each state is required to submit a report
and CEDAW on progress once every four years. The
The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of response from countries has been rather
All Forms of Discrimination Against encouraging. As of November 1999, 165
Women (often called the 'Women's countries had ratified the Women's
Convention') is the first and most Convention - the highest number of
comprehensive international agreement ratifications of any of the human rights
dealing with the human rights of women.1 treaties except the Convention on the
Adopted by the United Nations General Rights of the Child, 1990, which 191
Assembly, the Women's Convention was countries have ratified.
the result of campaigning and lobbying by
women's organisations. The basic goal of
the Women's Convention was to prohibit Deficiencies of the
all forms of discrimination against women. Women's Convention
This cannot be achieved merely by the The adoption of the Women's Convention
enactment of gender-neutral laws. was a triumph for women's organisations
Immediately after the Second World War, that had brought the issue of gender bias
in 1945, the principle of equality between and discrimination to the attention of the
men and women had been proclaimed in international community. However, it has
the United Nations Charter. However, been subjected to criticism from both
women were not recognised as a group the left and right of the political spectrum.
that requires particular assistance from the On the right, it has been argued that
international community to promote and international obligations can make states
protect their rights (Galey 1984), and liable for many expensive legal cases, if
violations of women's rights remained established practices are open to challenge
commonplace. In particular, violence under international human rights law (The
against women, in many different forms, Economist, 1999). Those on the left of
remained endemic. the spectrum have criticised the fact that
As a treaty that aimed to foster some ratifying countries have imposed
women's equality with men, the Women's limitations on the applicability of the
Convention defined discrimination against Convention. Like other international
women, and detailed measures to be taken agreements, the Women's Convention can
to enable women's rights to be fully be ratified with reservations. While many
realised. In addition to demanding that countries have ratified the Convention, it is
women be accorded equal rights with men, not surprising that this is often with
the Convention goes further by prescribing reservations.
the measures to be taken to ensure that Moreover, international treaties do not
women everywhere are able to enjoy the have legal power to protect women
rights to which they are entitled. Optimists from abuses of their rights, or to promote
have called this international agreement gender equality, unless ratifying countries
The leadership role of international law in enforcing women's rights 67

incorporate their principles into domestic Rapporteur on Violence Against Women

laws. Few countries have done that in the was appointed after the 1993 World
wake of ratification. As a result, there is a Conference on Human Rights, held in
gap between international obligation and Vienna. The aim was to prepare a report on
domestic enforcement. When women refer the issue of gender violence every year,
to the Women's Convention in their focusing on specific forms of violence.
submissions to court, the court can easily CEDAW went on to argue that gender-
say that the Convention has no legal force. based violence may breach specific
However, in some cases, the Women's provisions of the Convention, regardless of
Convention has had an important impact whether those provisions expressly mention
on the deliberations of national courts. For violence. The basis for this argument is that
instance, in 1999, the Supreme Court 'discrimination against women', in Article 1
of Canada referred to the Women's of the Women's Convention, can be
Convention in its decision to reject the understood to include violence that
defence of 'implied consent' for sexual is directed against a woman because she is
assault offences (the case of R v. Ewanchuk, a woman, or that affects women dis-
1999). The court cited the Women's proportionately. 'Discrimination against
Convention to emphasise that the Canadian women' can therefore cover acts that inflict
government had made a commitment to physical, mental, or sexual harm or
the international community to eliminate suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and
discrimination against women. other deprivations of liberty. In 1993, in
light of these interpretations, CEDAW
Other criticisms of the Women's
recommended that states ratifying the
Convention have centred, in the main, on
Women's Convention should ensure that
two issues: the omission of a specific
laws against family violence, abuse, rape,
provision on violence against women, and
sexual assault, and other gender-based
the lack of support to women who wish to
violence give adequate protection to all
bring individual complaints.
women, and respect their integrity and
CEDAW and violence against women dignity. Appropriate protective and
Not long after the introduction of the support services should be provided for
Convention, concerns arose that it has a victims, and gender-sensitive training of
glaring omission - it does not contain a judicial and law-enforcement officers and
specific provision on violence against other public officials is therefore essential
women. In contrast, other agreements, for the effective implementation of the
such as the International Covenant on Civil Convention.
and Political Rights (1976), the Convention On 23 February 1994, the UN General
on the Rights of the Child, and the Assembly adopted the Declaration on the
Convention against Torture (1985) contain Elimination of Violence against Women.
specific wording on violence against This signalled that violence against women
women. They can therefore be used in cases was starting to be regarded as a violation of
of specific forms of violence against human rights. It also placed more
women, such as the abuse of girl children, responsibility on states. This declaration
and trafficking in women. therefore boosted the implementation of
To counter the omission of violence the Women's Convention.
against women in the Women's Convention,
and make clear that the Convention The need to support individual women
prohibits gender-based violence as a complainants
form of discrimination, CEDAW adopted a Once CEDAW had settled the issue of
three-pronged approach. First, a Special violence against women, it could address its

second concern. The Women's Convention Despite efforts to address the problem
did not give individual women, and of reporting to CEDAW, the Women's
groups of women, the right to lodge Convention has remained a relatively
complaints against their govern-ments ineffective weapon (when compared with
when all domestic avenues of redress were other conventions) for women's NGOs,
exhausted. The Women's Convention thus which have to lobby hard against their
gives CEDAW limited powers to protect governments for further action.
individual women against violence.
In their progress reports to CEDAW, The development of the
governments' assessments of their efforts
to comply with the Women's Convention
Optional Protocol
have frequently been incomplete, and Since the drafting of the Women's
tended to minimise problems and Convention in 1976, women activists have
maximise accomplishments. CEDAW was lobbied for the right of individual women
limited under Article 21 of the Women's to be able to make complaints to CEDAW.
Convention as to the kind of information At that time, they suggested a complaints
it could take into consideration (Meron procedure for individuals, but this
1986): above all, CEDAW had to exclude proposal was not taken up.
considerations of individual complaints Lately, international law has increas-
(including those from NGOs) against their ingly recognised that an individual may
governments. possess both rights and duties, and that the
Since the early 1990s, CEDAW has tried legal principle that individuals do not
to counter these difficulties by asking participate on the international scene has
governments whether they had involved been eroded. Individual complaints
NGOs in preparing the reports. CEDAW procedures have been included in some
has in the past commended governments international treaties, including the
that included NGO inputs in their official International Convention on the
reports. However, NGOs that do work Elimination of All Forms of Racial
with governments to prepare the official Discrimination (1969) and the Convention
report may still find that it does not reflect Against Torture. These take the form of an
their concerns. Due to this, CEDAW also 'Optional Protocol' (Andrysek 1997).
invited direct NGO input, in the form of Optional Protocols to human rights treaties
independent or 'shadow' reports and are treaties in their own right, which either
informal presentations, to bring women's provide for procedures with regard to the
real concerns to national and international treaty, or address a substantive area related
attention, and complete the record. to the treaty.
In theory, one country could hold Increasingly, women's organisations
another accountable to the Women's called for the introduction of an Optional
Convention. Disputes between countries Protocol to the Women's Convention, to
relating to the interpretation or application give individuals and groups the right to
of the Women's Convention may be complain to CEDAW about violations of
submitted to the International Court of the Women's Convention, and to allow
Justice in the Hague, by any country that is CEDAW to conduct enquiries into grave or
directly involved in the dispute (Article 29). systematic abuses of women's human
However, in practice, this has never rights in countries that have ratified the
happened. One could speculate that Optional Protocol.
countries are not willing to file complaints In June 1993, the idea of adding an
against each other in matters pertaining Optional Protocol to the Women's Convention
to women's rights. was taken up and recommended in the
The leadership role of international law in enforcing women's rights 69

Vienna Declaration and Programme of To create greater public awareness of

Action, adopted by the UN-sponsored human rights standards relating to
World Conference on Human Rights. In discrimination against women (UN
1994, an independent expert group met at Division for the Advancement of
the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights, to Women 2000).
draft an Optional Protocol. Soon
afterwards, CEDAW adopted Suggestion The United Nations General Assembly
No. 7, a proposal that set out the desirable adopted the Optional Protocol to the
elements of an Optional Protocol. Women's Convention in October 1999.
Governments, inter-governmental organi-
sations, NGOs were invited by the
Secretary-General to submit their views. Features of the Optional
Since International Women's Year in
1975, the series of world conferences on The Optional Protocol represents an
women hosted by the United Nations unprecedented step forward in women's
was the focus for action from women's quest for justice and equality on the global
organisations to pressurise governments scene. As discussed above, it gives
to make changes in their legislation to individuals and groups of women the
support women's rights, and ratify the right to complain to CEDAW about
Women's Convention (Pietila and Vickers violations of the Women's Convention.
1994). The Fourth World Conference on Secondly, it enables the Committee to
Women held in Beijing in 1995 resulted in a conduct enquiries into grave or systematic
call to UN member states to support the abuse of women's human rights in
idea of an Optional Protocol. In 1996, a countries that have become party to the
working group on the Optional Protocol Optional Protocol. State parties to the
was established to examine the main issues Protocol can now be asked to explain and
raised by such implementation. In March remedy complaints about serious violations
1999, the UN Commission on the Status of women's rights, and the enquiry power
of Women (the body that drafted and given to CEDAW means that it can launch
oversees the Women's Convention, and investigations of serious abuses of women's
proposed the establishment of CEDAW) rights. The Optional Protocol also has
adopted the Optional Protocol. provisions for interim measures to be taken
CEDAW itself offered the following to ensure that the state involved in a case
reasons for the appropriateness of an brought to it will protect the individual or
Optional Protocol to the Women's individuals concerned, 'to avoid possible
Convention: irreparable damage to the victim or victims
of the alleged violation'.
To add to existing enforcement mech- Since the Optional Protocol has been
anisms for women's human rights agreed, CEDAW has been able to seek
To improve states' and individuals' guidance from national jurisprudence
understanding of the Women's (legal systems and the thinking behind
Convention them), to formulate its rulings. It can also
To stimulate states to take steps to draw on jurisprudence from other
implement the Women's Convention committees concerning civil and political
To stimulate changes in discriminatory rights.
laws and practices To give an example, from an indus-
To enhance existing mechanisms for the trialised country, of the Optional Protocol
implementation of human rights within in action, CEDAW has recently been
the UN system questioning the new Hong Kong Special

Administrative Region Government on the The effectiveness of the

issue of equal pay for work of equal value. Optional Protocol
The Equal Opportunities Commission,
established by the Hong Kong government How effective is the Optional Protocol
in 1995, has been rather weak and has filed likely to be? It may be helpful to examine
few legal lawsuits on sex discrimination. the case of a similar mechanism - the
The government of Hong Kong responded Optional Protocol to the 1976 International
to CEDAW on 2 February 1999, before the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Optional Protocol came into being. It made (ICCPR). This was the most important
a vague response: ' ... the Code of Practice individual complaints mechanism prior to
on Employment published under that the Optional Protocol to the Women's
Ordinance encourages employers to Convention. The major monitoring body for
progressively implement equal pay for this Covenant is the Human Rights
work of equal value. We support proposals Committee (HRC). Progress on the
that will enable the realisation of equality. ratification of the Optional Protocol of the
The Equal Opportunities Commission has ICCPR has been slow: by 1991, just over
in fact commissioned a research to examine 81 countries had signed it (Malanczuk 1997).
its feasibility and the result is awaited' In contrast, as of 7 September 2000,
(Hong Kong SAR Government 1998, 62 countries were signatories to the
para 25). Optional Protocol to the Women's
Clearly, women using the Optional Convention (indicating that they intend to
Protocol could challenge this kind of reply, ratify it). Only nine had ratified it: Austria,
since it does not promise any immediate Bangladesh, Denmark, France, Ireland,
action. Women fighting to be paid on an Namibia, New Zealand, Senegal, and
equal footing with men would first Thailand. Countries that have not signed
approach the Hong Kong Equal the Protocol include the United States of
Opportunities Commission. If no action is America.
taken or the highest court rules in favour of The Optional Protocol will only come
the employers, they could then complain to into force three months after the first
CEDAW. 10 countries have ratified it. While it will
There are, however, a number of not be too long before the tenth country
procedural obstacles to be overcome ratifies - it is likely that some Nordic
by women before CEDAW will hear a countries in particular will lead the way -
complaint. Article 2 states: 'Where a we should not be over-optimistic about the
communication is submitted on behalf of number of countries that will ultimately
individuals or groups of individuals, this ratify the Optional Protocol. Some countries
shall be with their consent unless the will be reluctant to subject themselves to
author can justify acting on their behalf the risk of exposure of violations of
without their consent.' Article 3 requires women's rights, and states ratifying the
that communications from individuals Optional Protocol cannot do so with
or groups should be in writing and cannot reservations, as they could with the
be anonymous; CEDAW will reject Women's Convention (Article 17).
complaints that are either ill-founded,
or insufficiently substantiated with Outcome of complaints filed
evidence. Article 4 stipulates that if local A substantial number of complaints have
remedies are available, they must be been filed under the Optional Protocol of
exhausted before the individual concerned the ICCPR. However, of approximately
could refer the case to CEDAW. 600 complaints filed in the past 20 years,
some 50 per cent have been rejected as
The leadership role of international law in enforcing women's rights 71

'inadmissible' (judged unsuitable for Conclusion

investigation, because they do not meet
the criteria). Generally, communications to The Optional Protocol to the Women's
the HRC are examined in confidential Convention opens up opportunities for
written procedures. The communications women to assert their rights against
contain the name of the person bringing oppressive regimes. But how much
the complaint and the name of the state that confidence can we have in international
he or she is complaining about; the issue, law as an effective avenue of redress? As it
and details of how alleged violations of stands, many countries have yet to ratify
relevant laws have taken place. The HRC the Women's Convention, and fewer have
would consider whether or not the facts signed up for the Optional Protocol.
constitute legal evidence, and whether or Confidence in the international law also
not the remedies available in national law depends on whether the countries
have been exhausted. The issues raised in concerned will comply with the rulings
the case are extensively reviewed. Finally, and suggestions of CEDAW, if it is agreed
the views of the HRC are channelled to all that women's rights have been violated.
concerned with the case. It takes a long Though it is a powerful tool, the
time - approximately three years - for the Optional Protocol does not mark the
HRC to conclude a case. elimination of discrimination against
Most importantly, the HRC does not women. International law cannot
have an effective enforcement mechanism, immediately change deeply rooted
so its findings depend in large part on attitudes, nor can it overthrow patriarchy
an individual state's willingness to remedy instantly. Feminist strategies for social
the wrong. The state is not forced to bow to change at the national level are still
the views of the HRC, beyond an obligation indispensable. These include defining
to remedy any violation of the rights gender issues; creating an agenda for
contained in the Covenant (Article 2:3). A action; making explicit connections
Special Rapporteur for the follow-up of between local organising efforts and
views has been appointed to monitor national politics; nurturing women's social
responses. Should any state refuse to networks as the context for motivating,
remedy a violation, the HRC is allowed to empowering, and sustaining women in
publicise this violation. Such adverse their work for social change; and building
publicity is potentially very damaging, coalitions among groups of women (Faver
and the power of this 'weapon' should not 1994).
be underestimated. The Optional Protocol to the Women's
As with the HRC, CEDAW's findings Convention, like other international human
carry no legal authority in the individual rights instruments, has been set up in
states where women complain that their response to action by women across the
rights have been violated. There are some world, working to influence the actions of
other barriers to its effective imple- governments and international bodies
mentation. Countries could opt out of the through lobbying and petition. Women
'enquiry' clause stipulated by the Protocol, should now turn their attention to pressing
under which CEDAW is empowered to their governments to take a lead in the
launch investigations of serious abuses of international community, by ratifying the
women's rights (Article 10). Further- Optional Protocol. Methods used to great
more, any country may withdraw from effect by the women's movement in
('renounce') the Protocol at any time by the past have included public meetings and
written notification; withdrawal would the use of media and newsletters,
take effect six months later (Article 19). campaigns to obtain petition signatures,

and lobbying and caucusing at national and Women's rights are constantly under-
international meetings. mined by the male-dominated political
When governments have ratified the system across countries. With the
Optional Protocol, legal literacy campaigns introduction of an Optional Protocol, a
are needed, to educate women at all levels potentially effective weapon is added to
of society about their rights under the legal arsenal, which could fight
international law, and to publicise how oppression against women. Taking cases to
these can be enforced using the legal an international monitoring committee is
procedures. Stories about successful legal one form of activism: women are now able
cases brought through the Optional to represent themselves. Their own voices
Protocol should be publicised as they occur, can potentially be heard in the international
by lawyers and by feminist journalists legal process. In this respect, Moody's
working in national and international discussion on the importance of women's
media. As far as the monitoring of voices in the criminal process could be
redresses is concerned, these women can extended to the international arena. She
also be watchdogs of their governments. comments: ' ... the ways in which women
Legal and policy advocates are needed might be permitted to present these
to advise women and facilitate their appeals descriptions [of harm], whether directly to
to CEDAW. Further, these advocates have the court, through their own Counsel, as a
to take measures to make people aware of written report or in a standard form, are
the international legal protection. Clearly, central to qualifying those discourses as
this would require a lot of resources at the authentic and also legitimate' (Moody 1995,
domestic level. Even supporters of the 213). Because of the Optional Protocol,
Women's Convention and CEDAW agree women can for the first time take their own
that many complainants will be unable to action at international level to achieve
go through the cumbersome and expensive equality. The progress is slow, but certain.
practice of travelling to Geneva or New
York to hold their government to account. Kwong-Leung Tang is Associate Professor of
Appealing to an international legal body the Social Work Program, University of
presupposes adequate access to and Northern British Columbia, 3333 University
acquaintance with the legal system. This Way, Prince George BC, Canada V2N 4Z9.
would be unimaginable for most women, E-mail:
who do not have the confidence, formal
education, or legal knowledge to represent
themselves in a law court. The process
would simply intimidate them.
To ensure that all this work takes place
at national level, financial resources are
needed from the international community.
Development funding agencies should play
a part. For example, the United Nations
Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)
has organised country-level advocacy
training, with a goal of raising awareness
of the Convention among human rights
and gender advocates, and the public, in
developing countries. This aims to ensure
that all laws passed in these countries are
consistent with the Women's Convention.
The leadership role of international law in enforcing women's rights 73

References Meron, T. (1986), Human Rights Law-Making

in the United Nations, Oxford: Clarendon.
Andrysek, O. (1997), 'Gaps in international Miles, A. (1996), Integrative Feminisms,
protection and the potential for redress New York: Routledge.
through individual complaints Moody, S. (1995), 'Images of women's
procedures', International Journal of sentencing in sexual assault cases in
Refugee Law, 9(3): 392-414. Scotland', in J. Bridgeman and S. Mills
Charlesworth, H. (1994), 'Women and (eds), Law and body politics: regulating the
international law', Australian Feminist female body, Aldershot: Dartsmouth.
Studies, 22, Autumn, 115-28. Pietila, H. and J. Vickers (1994), Making
Cook, R. (1990), 'Reservations to the Women Matter: The Role of the United
Convention on the Elimination of All Nations, London: Zed Books.
Forms of Discrimination Against Plattner, M. (1995), 'The status of women
Women', Virginia Journal of International under international human rights law
Law, 30. and the 1995 UN World Conference on
Economist, The (1999), 'Human Rights Women, Beijing China', Kentucky Law
law - alarm bells in Scotland', Journal, 84:1249-75.
20-26 November, 67-68. Trebilcock, A. (1991), 'Strategies for
Faver, C.A. (1994), 'Feminist ideology and strengthening women's participation in
strategies for social change: an analysis trade union leadership', International
of social movements', Journal of Applied Labour Review, 130( 4), 407-26.
Social Sciences, 18(1), 123-134. UN Division for the Advancement of
Malanczuk, P. (1997), Akehurst's modern Women (2000),
introduction to international law, http:/ /
New York: Routledge. cedaw / protocol.htm

Leadership for social

some ideas and questions on
institutions and feminist leadership1
Aruna Rao and David Kelleher
This article affirms the importance of changing the rules, not playing by them, if we are to transform
institutions so that they reflect and promote gender equality. It describes how institutions block
efforts to promote gender equality, and suggests that recent efforts to 'professionalise' NGOs have
exacerbated this tendency. However, NGOs are also currently concerned with 'organisational
learning', and this may offer them a 'third way' which combines professionalisation with feminist
ideals, including devolution of power. The article finishes with a discussion of the kind of leadership
required to challenge institutional inequality, and suggests directions for learning.

e recently saw the details of a the institutional challenges we face, and to
new training course being relate these to the question of leadership in
offered by an American business NGOs involved in development and
school, called 'Strategic Leadership for human rights. Finally, we will look at how
Women'. It was intended for existing and we need to work to transform ourselves in
aspiring women leaders in the non-profit order to transform our institutions.
and corporate world. It focused primarily
on improving women's presentation of
themselves, building their negotiating
The need to transform
skills, enhancing their ability to read their institutions
organisational context, and showing them Institutions are 'structures that humans
how to chart a road to success for impose on human interaction' (North
themselves within their particular 1999). But how are institutions structured,
environment, playing by the existing rules. and how do they operate? Further, how
This course is not unique in its can we make institutions serve our
emphases - in fact, it is representative of purpose? The scope for individuals inside
a whole genre. This is valuable work, but organisations to push a particular agenda is
the vision of leadership underpinning such limited by the formal institutional systems
courses is strikingly different from the and procedures - the 'rules of the game',
way we understand it in our work. We are and the degree to which the formal rules
interested in changing the rules of the are enforced. Key insights into the
game, not playing by them. That is the underlying nature of modern organisations
challenge of the feminist movement, come from the realisation that
the challenge of social change, the organisations are founded on a nineteenth-
challenge of the work we do. In this short century mixture of beliefs from patriarchal
article, we intend to look briefly at some of visions of the world, militarism, theories of
Leadership for social transformation: institutions and feminist leadership 75

social Darwinism,2 and the metaphor of the order to make lasting changes to what an
machine bequeathed by Newtonian organisation does, both formal rules and
physics.3 Clearly, this type of organisation informal norms need to change. Leaders
is not designed to transform social relations; who aim to bring about social trans-
it is intended to reinforce them. Such formation in line with feminist goals must
thinking led to hierarchical structures provide the vision to challenge these
underpinned by a world-view that sees institutional principles, and their mani-
power as a limited commodity, held by the festation in organisations. Part of this
few, to control the behaviour of the many. process is to challenge hierarchical power.
Over the past decade, leading feminist
researchers4 have explored organisational Overcoming new barriers
culture, structure, systems, and procedures, We are aware of a variety of experiments
in a variety of organisational forms, underway in development and human
including public bureaucracies, inter- rights NGOs that are attempting to steer a
national organisations, corporations, way through these issues (see Rao et al.
and NGOs. Feminist researchers have 1999). One medium-sized North American
argued that organisations are not rational, NGO we know of has been involved in a
neutral bodies, but living and breathing long-term effort to make its programme
microcosms of the societies that house more relevant to changing times. Most
them and the people who inhabit them. recently, staff have made gender and
The organisations that rule our world cultural diversity a central part of their
are informed by cultural values and programme, realising that programmatic
patriarchal norms that are anti-women and change is dependent on a change in the way
exclusionary. The gender biases that are they work. Part of the change is a
built into the very foundations of orga- commitment to more flexibility and
nisations seep into their ways of working, responsiveness in the work of the organi-
to produce gender-biased outcomes. sation, and devolution of power. The
Scope for change is limited by intangible commitment to devolution of power has
and complex, but highly powerful, informal resulted in the change being managed by
institutional values, norms, structures, and a multi-level team, working by consensus.
processes that underlie and shape human The effort has just begun, but there is a high
interaction. They are often hidden, not level of excitement about, and shared
obvious; and need to be uncovered by a ownership of, the new direction. There also
variety of methods (Schein 1992). These seems to be a willingness to accept the
hidden norms operate as informal inevitably slower pace of decision-making
constraints on people's behaviour and the brought by devolved power and a commit-
policies of the organisation. They are, ment to participation.
perhaps, even more of a constraint than the However, the recent moves on the part
formal rules. They are often extremely hard of many national and international
to recognise. Examples include norms of development NGOs to embrace a more
behaviour and unspoken codes of conduct. 'corporate' approach does present leaders
They are embedded in language, symbols, who seek to transform the 'deep structure'
myths, and social custom, and in different of organisations with a new set of
human institutions, from marriage, to challenges. Recent moves to make NGOs
markets, to local governance structures - more 'professional' have led to an emphasis
for example, village panchayats (local on 'control-oriented' factors, such as
governing councils) in India. These hidden accountability to management, financial
norms are also embedded in what we might management, and adherence to policy
call modern organisations. It is clear that in (for more on this, see Kelleher and

MacLaren 1996). The challenge for the common with feminist organising. These
North American organisation will be include commitments to team learning and
to manage the tension between its dialogue, to understanding the whole
commitment to devolved decision-making system, and to listening to issues important
and the imperative for decisions to be to clients or beneficiaries. Perhaps the
made within a reasonable time. North American organisation will learn
Much too often, we are seeing that their preconceptions about decision-
leadership that aims to promote social making can be revised.
change, including feminist goals, sacrificed
at the altar of professionalism. Anecdotal
evidence is strong that this has led to a Leadership and individual
regrettable reduction in attention to transformation
principles that were formerly very It is becoming clear that if we are to do this
highly valued - for example, commitment transformatory work, then both appointed
to beneficiaries' participation, and leaders and others need to develop
devolution of power (Wallace 1999). This is transformatory leadership skills. If we were
because at the heart of the shift to a to offer advice to leaders, we would begin
corporate approach is a change in the way by giving attention to the following issues.
organisations encourage their staff to
conceptualise and exercise power. As Challenging the process
stated earlier, power is expressed in We would emphasise that leadership for
modern organisations through hierarchy. transformation means being willing to take
Power is viewed as a limited commodity. risks by questioning existing ways of
Power struggles are conceptualised and working, and considering how tasks might
played out as a win-lose game - if I have be done differently if the primary
more, you have less. This conception of motivation is a concern for equality and
power devalues participation, and silences justice. The unconscious 'deep structure' of
voices that would bring alternative organisations leads workers to behave in
perspectives and knowledge to deliver ways that may seem reasonable, but
equitable outcomes, including gender- sometimes prevent gender equality and the
equitable outcomes. delivery of gender-equitable programme
Is it possible to steer a 'third way' outcomes.
between the hierarchical managerial
control of 'professionalisation', and the Action and power
flexibility and political devolution that is We would also suggest that to become a
required for organisational change for transformational leader requires a mind-
gender equality? Many corporations and shift to a different way of being, and time
some NGOs are also experimenting with spent considering what this means.
ideas of 'organisational learning' (Senge Paradoxically, we believe that becoming
1992). Most published perspectives on a force for positive change and trans-
organisational learning do not integrate a formation is more about who the leader is
gender analysis or other analyses of social than what she or he does. Much too often,
differentiation (Argyris et al. 1996), and it is leaders see it as essential to try to get more
far from clear that proponents of power, so that we can push what we
organisational learning contemplate a believe is a better agenda and overcome
serious re-alignment or re-thinking of opposition. In contrast to Newtonian ideas
power or other dominant values in the of power as limited and controlling, we see
organisation. However, some features of power as an energy that is limitless,
organisational learning have much in challenging of hierarchies, and available to
Leadership for social transformation: institutions and feminist leadership 77

Part of the wonder of the conception of rather than focusing on accomplishing

power as relational and unlimited is its a task 'come hell or high water' (a
potential to transform relationships, and, confrontational, aggressive, man-against-
ultimately, human organisations and nature script rooted in patriarchy).
institutions. Leaders need to be open to Work with power. Realise that power
seeing the world as primarily made up of comes from all locations and positions,
relationships. This is not just a question of not only from those higher in a
personal psychology and interpersonal hierarchy. There is also power (and risk)
relations: it is also a question of spirituality. in having a clear purpose, enough
We have found David Bohm's book, information, and a good relationship
Wholeness and the Implicate Order (1980), with others. These forms of power
useful in thinking about this. Bohm enable you to be a force for change,
suggests that the material world and beyond playing by the organisational
consciousness are parts of a single rules.
unbroken totality of movement. Everything Avoid the trap of becoming a 'true
in the universe affects everything else, believer', denying the legitimacy of
and each one of us is related to the whole of different points of view, as this prevents
humankind. When we are engaged in the dialogue necessary to come to a
something that is deeply significant for holistic vision shared by all.
us personally, and are attuned to those
who surround us, we can experience Observation and analysis
moments of incredible clarity or joy, We would also highlight the usefulness of
and achieve extraordinary physical, artistic, some new analytical tools transformational
or intellectual things. Musicians call this leaders. Although organisational analysis
being 'in the groove'. has been going on for some time, the
To relate this seemingly abstract set of complexity of organisational environ-ments
ideas to the practical issues faced by and our concern for the deep structure has
leaders in development organisations, the led us to seek out, and create, new
challenge is to discover what is needed analytical tools intended to help
to find these moments of 'groove', which transformational leaders understand
will lead us as individuals, and in organisations. Many of these challenge old
relationships with our colleagues, to be ideas of organisations as machines, and
a force for justice and equality. We think develop an understanding of them as
that key factors in creating these moments unpredictable, living systems, made up of
are personal commitment to a cause, and individual people. We are starting to
the process of working in close colla- understand that we cannot only look at
boration and dialogue with others who parts of organisations, but need to study
share similar goals. them as whole entities as well. Tools for
Lessons we have to offer from our seeing 'wholeness' include mind-maps,
experience are: timelines, multi-perspective analyses,
causal maps, and power circuits analysis.
Define yourself as a force for trans- Some new analytical tools also address
formation in a manner that makes sense the issue of power. For example, one set of
to you, in light of your under-standing analytical tools which we have found
of the situation, and your values. helpful has been developed by Barry Oshry
Work purposively for thoughtfully (1999). It contains a description of the
chosen and valued ends, knowing that different types of power available to people
you are part of something larger than at different levels of an organisation, and
yourself, which is working with you, this kind of analysis opens up the

possibility that staff at all levels can be of the conditions needed to start and
powerful actors for change - not only sustain social transformation. We must
appointed leaders. Other analytical tools build managerial efficiency with leader-
direct our attention to ways in which power ship for change, not at the expense of it.
is used in systems. Is it being used in ways To do this in practical ways, addressing the
that restrict the power of others, and pressing challenges that women around
exclude them from key activities or the world face today, is the task in hand.
decisions? Or is it being used to energise
the system? Aruna Rao is a gender and development
A third group of new tools is concerned consultant and writer. She is President of the
with the 'deep structure' of the organisation Board of Directors of the Association for
- the unconscious, taken-for-granted rules Women in Development (AWID).
that are beyond challenge (for a fuller E-mail:
discussion, see Rao et al. 1999). For David Kelleher is an organisational consultant.
example, aspects of the 'deep structure' of E-mail:
many organisations are:

rigid beliefs about power and hierarchy

and their expression; 1. An earlier version of this paper was
failure to understand and address the presented by Aruna Rao at 'Cultural
fact that all human beings balance their Boundaries and Cyber Spaces:
work with their family life; Innovative Tools and Strategies for
a narrow focus on instrumentality - Strengthening Women's Leadership in
that is, the reduction of organisational Muslim Societies', an international
purpose to a narrow set of quantifiable symposium sponsored by Women's
indicators; Learning Partnership, New York City,
a tendency to emphasise the individual 1-2 June, 2000.
hero and achievement model at the 2. Social Darwinism is the theory that
expense of collaborative efforts involving persons, groups, and races are subject to
both visible and so-called 'invisible laws of natural selection. According to
work'. the theory, which was popular in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
There may be many other aspects of the the strong grew in power and in cultural
deep structure of particular organisations influence over the weak.
that need to be uncovered. An important 3. Newtonian physics maintains that
way to do that is by 'surfacing' silent voices everything in existence can be described
within the organisation and its clients objectively, because all phenomena
or beneficiaries. Aspects of the 'deep result from the interactions of their
structure' can then be changed by altering physical parts.
work practices, so that they counter 4. For example, Nuket Kardam (1991),
deep-structure values that hinder gender- Kathleen Staudt (1998), Anne Marie
equality objectives. Goetz (1997), and Joan Acker (1990),
among others.
5. Clients or beneficiaries of organisations
Conclusion often have little if any access to the
The forces of the status quo are very mechanisms that are intended to make
powerful; the daily pressures to play the organisations accountable, and other
game by the rules are overwhelming. mechanisms intended to ensure good
We must develop a greater understanding governance. It is obvious that this
Leadership for social transformation: institutions and feminist leadership 79

renders organisations poor vehicles forOshry, Barry (1999), Leading Systems:

promoting values of gender justice and Lessonsfromthe Power Lab, San Francisco:
new paradigms of sustainable Berrett-Koehler.
development! North, A. (1999), from a presentation on
institutional change at the World Bank,
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Policy and Practice, Oxford: Oxfam GB.

Compiled by Erin Murphy Graham

African Women's Leadership Institute

Background Papers (1997 and 1998), Akina
Mama wa Africa, 334-336 Goswell Road,
Building Women's Leadership for the 21st
London EC1V 7LQ, UK.
Century (1999), Joanna Kerr, Report of a
Donor Roundtable hosted by UNIFEM and Tel: +20 7713 5166; fax: +20 7713 1959
NOVIB, UNIFEM, 304 East 45th Street, 15th These two booklets of background papers
Floor, New York, NY 10017, USA. from each of the annual African Women's
This report highlights the importance of Leadership Institutes cover topics including
promoting women's leadership, arguing that the process of women's empowerment,
'women's leadership is a central element for feminism in Africa, patriarchal 'roadblocks'
constituency-building to achieve gender to women's development, and managing
equality'. It highlights the role of women's personal and institutional change. The
leadership in challenging and questioning booklet from 1997 also includes speeches
existing gender relations, and attempting and essays presented at the Institute.
to overcome all forms of social injustices.
Sections focus on challenges facing women Where Women are Leaders: The SEWA Movement
in particular regions of the world; oppor- in India (1992), Kalima Rose, Zed Books,
tunities to build women's leadership; 7 Cynthia Street, London Nl 9FJ, UK.
lessons learned from effective women's This narrative history of SEWA (the Self-
leadership development; and strategies to Employed Women's Association) describes
strengthen women's leadership. its work from its initial organising of
women to its current national and
international influence on women's
A Diplomacy of the Oppressed: New Directions employment. The book reviews SEWA's
in International Feminism (1995), Georgina organising tactics and development model,
Ashworth (ed.), Zed Books, 7 Cynthia and is a useful resource for those who are
Street, London Nl 9FJ, UK. self-employed or working in the informal
Leading feminists - thinkers and activists - sector world-wide.
draw together the political, economic,
religious, and cultural issues that most
closely concern the international women's
movement today. The book demonstrates
the importance of working together to
create a dialogue and shared strategies
between different women's movements
Resources 81

Gender-Responsible Leadership: Detecting Bias, Women in Contemporary Democratization

Implementing Interventions (1993), Catherine (2000), Shahra Razavi, UNRISD Occasional
Herr Van Nostrand, Sage Publications, Paper 4, Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10,
6 Bonhill Street, London EC2A 4PU, UK. Switzerland.
The primary goal of this volume is to This paper looks at the issue of democrat-
'develop appropriate, well-timed inter- isation from a gender perspective. Women's
vention strategies for remedying our own persistent exclusion from formal politics
sexism and confronting it in those we lead'. shows the need to reform supposedly
Techniques outlined here aim to confront 'democratic' institutions. The paper draws
bias in men's favour, and create learning attention to the increasing visibility of
and working environments in which women's movements, arguing that their
women have the same advantages as men, long-term viability and effectiveness
and women's talents are respected and depends on their ability to work in different
actively sought out. arenas and at different levels, and in
alliance with supporters in mainstream
Shattering the Glass Ceiling: The Woman politics.
Manager (1992), Marilyn J. Davidson and
Cary L. Cooper, Paul Chapman Publishing Leadership Skills for Women: Boost Your Career
Ltd., 144 Liverpool Road, London Nl 1LA, with New Techniques and Skills (1999),
UK. Marilyn Manning and Patricia Haddock,
This book asks why the 'glass ceiling' exists, Kogan Page Ltd., 120 Pentonville Road,
and how to break through it. Women are London Nl 9JN, UK.
increasingly visible in the labour force at Includes advice from over 100 women
the lower levels of organisations, but managers and potential women managers,
largely absent from management positions. about working effectively with men.
Individual chapters explore relationships at Provides straightforward instructions and
work, the roles that women play within exercises to help individuals develop their
organisations, and managerial skills. potential as leaders. Also addresses
stereotypes and prejudices against women.
Getting Institutions Right for Women in Includes an exercise to 'test your leadership
Development (1997), Anne Marie Goetz (ed.), potential'.
Zed Books, 7 Cynthia Street, London Nl 9FJ,
UK. Women and Politics in the Third World (1996),
Argues that feminist perspectives are still Haleh Afshar, Routledge, 11 New Fetter
largely absent from the world of economic Lane, London EC4P 4EE, UK.
policy-making and that the persistant Eleven articles explore specific forms of
marginalisation of gender-sensitive policy resistance, organisation, participation, and
measures points to gendered patterns in the negotiation, used by women in the
administration of development. More developing world. Non-western women
fundamental institutional change is called have used their traditional roles in the
for in order to institutionalise women's domestic sphere as mothers and care
interests and gender-sensitive account- providers to seek resources, welfare, and
ability. Individual chapters focus on freedom from oppression for themselves
women's movements and democracy in and their children. Case studies draw on
Chile, women MPs in the Indian women's experiences in Iran, Palestine,
Parliament, BRAC in Bangladesh, and China, Latin America, South Asia, and
making development agencies accountable Palestine.
to women.

Transforming Development: Women, Poverty in the domestic spheres and led popular
and Politics (1995), Margaret Snyder, movements. In doing so, many became
Intermediate Technology Publications, personally and politically empowered.
103-105 Southampton Row, London
WC1B 4HH, UK. Women, International Development, and
The author of this book is the founding Politics: The Bureaucratic Mire (1997),
director of the United Nations Kathleen Staudt (ed.), Temple University
Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Press, Philadelphia, PA 19122, USA.
The central argument of the book is that Offers a comparative analysis of gender
women are central to development, and policy by looking at international,
it is presented through the story of governmental, and non-governmental
UNIFEM and its projects in international institutions in a variety of national and
development. It examines the context of the cultural contexts. The 'bureaucratic mire'
'development system' and the political and prevents women from participating in, and
bureaucratic obstacles that UNIFEM was contributing to, the development process in
confronted with. Individual chapters focus national and local government, the home,
on women and world politics, empower- and the workplace. The first section
ment of women, political participation, and analyses women's political organisations,
lessons for the future. drawing on case studies from Brazil and
Northern Mexico. The second focuses on
Gender in Third World Politics (1996), international agencies. The concluding
Georgina Waylen, Open University Press, section offers future strategies for women's
Celtic Court, 22 Ballmoor, Buckingham, empowerment in bureaucracies.
MK18 1XW, UK.
Different political formations such as Women and Political Power (1992), Inter-
colonialism, revolution, authoritarianism, Parliamentary Union, Place du Petit-
and democratisation are analysed from a Saconnex, BP 438, 1211 Geneva 19,
gender perspective. Both 'high politics' and Switzerland.
political activity at the grassroots are This study represents a further step in an
explored, focusing particularly on women's on-going exercise seeking both to expand
organisations and the impact of policy general knowledge on women and
and politics on gender relations and on political power, and enable the Inter-
different groups of women. Parliamentary Union (IPU) to define the
action necessary to promote a more
Out of the Shadows: Women, Resistance and equitable sharing of political power
Politics in South America (1993), Jo Fisher, between men and women. In 1991 the
Latin American Bureau (Research and IPU sent a survey to 150 Parliaments. It was
Action) Ltd., 1 Amwell Street, London drawn up by men and women politicians
EC1R 1UL, UK. and designed to bring in both objective and
In many South American countries, women subjective information. The core of future
led the opposition to military dictatorships action that emerges from the survey
and the transition to democratic rule. responses is the promotion of a more
This book tells the stories of women leaders equitable sharing of political power and
in Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, and responsibility between men and women, as
Argentina. Coming together in communal this will enable society to benefit from the
kitchens, trade unions, as landless peasants, specific input of women and give real
or as relatives of the disappeared, these meaning to the concept of democracy.
women broke out of their traditional roles
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On Top of the World: Women's Political Poor and Powerful: Female-headed Households
Leadership in Scandinavia and Beyond and Unmarried Motherhood in Botswana
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88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881, Entwicklungspolitik Breintenbac GmbH,
USA. Miihlenstrafie 20, D-66111, Saarbrucken,
This book attempts to answer three funda- Germany.
mental questions concerning female political Botswana has a significantly high rate of
leadership through an interdisciplinary female-headed households - approximately
analysis of the Scandinavian political 50 per cent (in 1994). Over half of all
system. Is there a female style of non- women with children are unmarried. This
aggressive leadership that relies on a large proportion of female headship
power-sharing strategy rather than a contrasts greatly with the past, when this
power-wielding one? Does this style only role was restricted to men. This study
apply to women? Would women leaders examines why this pattern has emerged by
promote peace and social justice better than studying gender ideology, gender roles,
their male counterparts have done in the and socio-economic change in the
past? Valuable lessons can be learned from socio-historical context of Botswana. While
women in positions of political leadership this is a country-specific study, the overall
in Nordic countries. research questions and examination of
gender roles and women's leadership in the
Literacy for Citizenship: Gender and Grassroots household are relevant in other contexts.
Dynamics in Brazil (1997), Nelly P.
Stromquist, State University of New York Gender, Education and Development: Beyond
Press, State University Plaza, Albany, NY Access to Empowerment (1999), Christine
12246, USA. Heward and Sheila Bunwaree (eds), Zed
This in-depth case study of the MOVA Books, 7 Cynthia Street, London Nl 9FJ, UK.
(Movimento de de Jovenes e Using case studies and drawing from
Adultos) literacy programme in Sao Paulo, substantial experience in the field, this book
Brazil between 1989 and 1993, explores examines education in the context of the
the limitations of many current theories diverse experiences of women and girls
concerning the potential of literacy and around the world. Moving beyond issues of
basic adult education programmes to access to education, the chapters explore
promote individual empowerment and previously ignored problems such as
social change. The goal of the MOVA the content of education and the way it
programme was 'literacy for citizenship ... is experienced by women and girls. Case
an education that empowered individuals' studies from Africa, Latin America, South
and that 'would lead to collective action East Asia, and the Pacific illustrate a
aimed at changing unjust political and number of important conclusions,
social structures'. While the focus is on including that the empowerment of women
one literacy programme, many of the and their autonomy are central issues
findings have universal relevance to in understanding gender, education, and
an understanding of the factors that shape development.
the acquisition, uses, and outcomes of
increased education.

Women-Headed Households: Diversity and tfganisatdons

Dynamics in the Developing World (1997),
Sylvia Chant, St. Martin's Press, New York, The Centre for Women's Global Leadership,
NY 10010, USA. Douglass College, Rutgers, State University
Why are female-headed households of New Jersey, 160 Ryders Lane, New
becoming more and more prevalent Brunswick, NJ 08901-8555, USA.
throughout the world? This book explores Tel: +732 932 8782; fax: +732 932 1180;
this question, and focuses on the diversity e-mail:
and dynamics of female-headed house- http:/ /
holds in developing countries. Case-study This programme aims to promote the
material is included from urban and rural leadership of women, and to advance
areas in Mexico, Costa Rica, and the feminist perspectives in policy-making
Philippines, and illustrates the various processes in local, national, and
routes by which low-income women international arenas. Since 1990, the Global
enter household headship. While the Centre has worked to foster women's
experiences of these women vary across leadership in the area of human rights
countries, discrimination and disadvantage through women's global leadership
are constantly present. institutes, strategic planning activities,
international mobilisation campaigns, UN
Missing Men? The Debate Over Rural Poverty monitoring, global education endeavours,
and Women-Headed Households in Southern publications, and a resource centre.
Africa (1997), Bridget O'Laughlin, Institute
of Social Studies Working Paper 252, PO Box Women, Law and Development International,
29776,2502LT The Hague, The Netherlands. 1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 407
This paper looks at the consequences of Washington, DC 20036, USA.
men's absence from communities and house- Tel: + 202 463 7477; fax: + 202 463 7480
holds, and concludes that households Women, Law and Development
headed by women are not always poorer International (WLDI) is a nonprofit,
than those headed by men. The author non-governmental organisation that
highlights the fact that many programmes promotes women's full and equal
that target women heads ignore the social participation in nations around the world
and economic structures that give women by advancing universal respect for human
autonomy only in the absence of men. rights, expanding rights education and
legal literacy among women, and
Gender in Popular Education: Methods for challenging discriminatory socio-economic
Empowerment (1996), Shirley Alters and barriers. Committed to capacity-building,
Linzi Manicom, Zed Books, 7 Cynthia advocacy, and expanding women's rights
Street, London Nl 9FJ, UK. networks, WLDI has collaborated with
A collection of critical reflections on thought-leaders, researchers, advocates,
feminist adult education work in grassroots activists, and monitors throughout the
organisations, development projects, world. WLDI works with its partners to
formal institutions, and community identify legal, cultural, and economic
education programmes in a variety of impediments to women's enjoyment of
different countries. Explores several human rights, to propose targeted
education methodologies and learning approaches, to develop activist strategies,
strategies that lead to women's and to train women's groups to advocate
empowerment, drawing on case study before UN and governmental bodies for
material in India, Australia, Canada, the policies that recognise women's rights.
Philippines, and Malaysia.
Resources 85

UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund development agency is based in the UK and
for Women), 304 East 45th Street, 15th Floor, has a regional office in Kampala. AMwA
New York, NY 10017, USA. was set up in 1985 by women from different
Tel: +212 906 6400; fax: +212 906 6705 parts of Africa residing in the UK to create
http:/ / space for African women to organise
UNIFEM's mission is to promote women's autonomously, identify issues of concern to
empowerment and gender equality. It acts them, and speak for themselves. AMwA
as a catalyst within the UN system, aims to provide solidarity, support,
supporting efforts that link the needs and promote awareness, and to build links with
concerns of women to all critical issues on African women active in the areas of their
the national, regional, and global agendas. own development. In 1996 it started the
One of its major programme areas is African Women's Leadership Institute.
'Engendering Governance and Leadership'.
This programme works with governments,
women's networks and NGOs to increase
the capacity of women to participate in
political institutions, promote women's
perspectives in policy-making, and Inter-Parliamentary Union: Democracy through
influence the direction of society. Partnership between Men and Women
This website outlines the areas of activity of
International Program for More and Better ]obsthe IPU specifically concerned with gender
for Women (WOMEMP), International issues and democracy. Included on the site
Labour Organization. are the following resources:
Tel: +41 22 799 8276 or +41 22 799 7039;
fax: +41 22 799 7657;
Women in Politics Bibliographic database
http: / / / BDFsearch.asp
http:/ /
Database that contains bibliographic
employment / gems / conf / index.htm
references on books and articles dealing
The mission of this branch of the
with women in politics world-wide.
International Labour Organization is to
reinforce the ILO's longstanding priority to
promote employment in conditions of Women in National Politics
equality and also to contribute to the
successful follow-up to the Fourth World Provides data on the percentage of women
Conference on Women and the gender in national politics worldwide (both world
dimensions of the World Summit for Social and regional averages) in tables based
Development. Among other activities, it on information provided by national
helps develop and implement national parliaments. Comparative data on the
action plans to improve the quantity and percentage of women in each national
quality of women's employment. parliament is presented in separate tables.

Instruments of International Law Concerning

Akina Mama wa Africa, 334-336 Goswell Women: Ratification and Implementation
Road, London EC1V 7LQ, UK. http:/ /
Tel: +20 7713 5166; fax: +20 7713 1959; Provides links to full text versions of
e-mail: various conventions relating to women's rights from the Universal Declaration of
'Akina Mama wa Africa' (AMwA) is the Human Rights (1948) to the Universal
Swahili phrase for 'solidarity among Declaration on Democracy (1996).
African women'. This non-governmental

WomenWatch: The UN Internet Gateway on 1

the Advancement and Empowerment of Women
Videos ' ': ' l ^ . , :
http:/ /
This website seeks to educate its visitors The following videos are available from
about the work of the United Nations UNIFEM (see contact information above).
entities and inter-governmental and treaty
bodies that deal with the advancement and Empower Tools: Technology for Women's
empowerment of women, and about inter- Empowerment (1995)
national instruments on women's rights. It Highlights six innovative approaches to
contains links to all UN organisations that technology transfer and technical training.
work for women's empowerment and Format: NTSC/PAL, BETA/VHS.
gender equality, as well as regional plans
of actions from across the globe. Women in Front (1996)
Women's grassroots leaders in Brazil
Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) fight for women's rights and a better
http:/ / environment for their children.
Grounded in the vision of equality of the Format: NTSC/PAL, BETA/VHS.
United Nations Charter, the Division for
the Advancement of Women (DAW), as
part of the Department of Economic and
Social Affairs (DESA) of the United Nations
Secretariat, advocates the improvement of
the status of the women of the world and
the achievement of their equality with men.
This site contains links to various UN
publications and websites on the Beijing
Conference and the Beijing +5 follow-up.

Akina Forum
http:/ /
An on-line discussion forum on women's
leadership in Africa that posts articles and
gives readers an opportunity to respond.

Women Leaders Online/Women Organising for

Women Leaders Online is a website that
attempts to empower women in politics,
media, society, the economy, and cyberspace.

The Electra Pages

http:/ /
The Electra Pages is an online database
of over 9,000 women's organisations. Its
browser allows you to search for
organisations by location, category, and
name. It also allows users to add their
own listings and correct current listings.