Is Feminist Governance an Oxymoron?

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A review of academic literature and feminist organisations’ policies, statements, and bylaws, suggests that applying a feminist lens to governance is primarily concerned with creating greater equality within the organisation. Equality in governance manifests itself through leadership practices, decision-making processes, organisational structure, pay, positions, staff well-being, and intersectional policies. Mainstream models of governance are generally hierarchical, whereby power is vested in a few individuals, such as a board of directors. From a feminist lens, such a governance model is seen as reproducing patriarchal relationships and reflecting privilege, power, and exclusion.

Feminist governance models, by contrast, move away from that structure. Feminist governance principles support that leadership practices, decision-making, and organisational structure should be less- or non-hierarchical. Women’s organisations typically view “non-hierarchical organising as a tool for women’s empowerment”. This is not to say, however, that there cannot be leaders or that those leadership positions are necessarily patriarchal. Leaders, structure, rules, and management procedures are not the same as hierarchy. On the contrary, a well-articulated structure can actually help maintain non-hierarchy and, even then, hierarchies can exist while practising feminist principles.

Ultimately, feminist governance “is not about getting ‘rid’ of power; it’s about sharing it, negotiating it, maybe even making it bigger if you can.”

It is important to note that sharing power does not mean simply sharing it with those of similar backgrounds or characteristics. Feminist principles on governance indicate that leadership should be shared amongst a variety of people, and include those at all levels of the organisation.  Another means of dispersing power in feminist organisations is inverting authority. This means that instead of seeking permission from a superior, employees or volunteers seek authorization from their colleagues or those they serve.

Feminist organisations around the world provide a plethora of examples of feminist governance and leadership structures. We provide real examples of feminist governance in the full report. Click here to read more.