Without gender equality and female leadership across political, economic, social, and environmental sectors, it may be difficult for the world to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Women and girls around the globe continue to face uphill battles for access to education, healthcare, and inclusion in society. According to the UN Development Programme Gender Inequality Index, there is no country where women have equal or greater freedoms and resources than men. The problem is compounded by other societal barriers women face related to class, race, ability, and sexual preference.

But, solutions exist. Feminist leadership, an approach that is supportive and inclusive of those most marginalized due to their gender identity, can be an essential path toward improving the lives of women and girls. 

Feminist leadership, which was spotlighted at this year’s Goalmakers 2020 National Forum hosted by Global Washington (watch here), is helping to shift narratives through programs that are “by women” (instead of only “for women”).

Feminist leadership models put women at the center of interventions to embolden them, as well as address power imbalances. In practice, this can take many forms:

  • Frontier Markets pivoted to work directly with women to invest in their talent and train them in e-commerce practices, marketing, and customer service.
  • WeForest invests and supports a women-led Indigenous community in Nepal that successfully started and continues self-driven progress on land restoration projects in their community.
  • Shooting Touch, based in Rwanda, aims to empower more young women to get involved in sports for youth development. The organization took steps to increase female participation in programming by hiring more female basketball coaches, providing gender-based training for the entire staff, and hosting female empowerment seminars.
  • Women’s World Banking works with banking institutions in India that indicate  female banking agents are paramount to helping women in the community during COVID-19 get access to relief funding, sign up for bank accounts, and access banking services

“Getting women and even girls to the decision-making realm is absolutely vital,” said Goalmakers panelist Robbin Jorgensen, founder & CEO, Women Igniting Change. “We have to get women to the table, making decisions in the political landscape, in the corporate landscape, in the global development landscape, because if they’re not at the table, then we’re just perpetuating [inequality].” 

Women leaders have the potential to spark economic growth and help build up their communities. According to the  Clinton Global Initiative,  “When women work, they invest 90% of their income back into their families, compared with 35% for men. By focusing on girls and women, innovative businesses and organizations can spur economic progress, expand markets, and improve health and education outcomes for everyone.” Furthermore, women experiencing economic empowerment gain confidence and increase participation at the household and community level.

Gender equality is a defined UN goal (SDG 5), but it’s an issue that directly impacts many other large, complicated social problems, from poverty to climate change. It’s an important consideration for donors who might assume the causes they support are untouched by gender.

“[There is] research that talks about the absolutely essential part that diverse leadership plays in solving complex problems in particular,” said Mary Ellen Iskenderian, CEO, Women’s World Banking. “Understanding right from the get-go that there really is no such thing as gender neutrality or gender-blindness [is important].”

How Donors Can Get Involved:

To start, donors and the global development organizations they support should be intentional about decolonization and shifting power.

“Don’t come with your solutions from the Western world,” said Marie-Noëlle Keijzer, co-founder, vice-president of the board, WeForest. “We might resolve one problem, but create others. Let’s go and listen to what these women need.”

Other Ways to Get Involved:

  • Fund segmented data-driven efforts. Providing capacity for organizations to collect and analyze data can help us understand the scope of issues facing women and girls -- and develop solutions. 
  • Help close the technology gap. Bring focus and investment to digital literacy for women and girls so they can be confident in utilizing online services, such as online banking, to build digital and financial autonomy. 
  • Support efforts to build climate restoration. Land and restoration projects in rural communities have the potential to lift women out of poverty, especially when climate change disproportionately impacts women and girls.