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الموقع تحت الإنشاء

النسخة التجريبية من موقع النهضة العربية (أرض)

Women’s Leadership.. a Participatory and Collaborative Approach


By: Elenora Banfi

Gender Studies Manager at Al-Nahda Thought Center

In the contemporary discourse surrounding leadership, the concept has assumed a multifaceted nature, defying singular and monolithic definitions. It transcends conventional notions of authority and position, encompassing a complex process of influence directed towards mobilizing individuals or groups to achieve specific objectives or facilitate transformative changes[1]. While diverse definitions of leadership abound, they converge on the central premise that leadership primarily involves the act of influencing others[2].  On the other hand, the distinct features of women’s leadership are often characterized by participatory and collaborative approaches

Women leaders, in their pursuit of collective progress, tend to deviate from traditional hierarchical structures, emphasizing inclusive practices and shared responsibility. By fostering active engagement and valuing diverse perspectives, women leaders create an environment that cultivates collective growth and fosters innovation[3].

The significance of women’s leadership lies in its capacity to promote collaboration and empower individuals within their spheres of influence. Such leadership styles depart from conventional notions of hierarchy, embracing a more egalitarian ethos. By harnessing the essence of women’s leadership, we unlock a realm of possibilities where varied voices find resonance, and collective accomplishments emerge as a driving force for transformative change. As our understanding of leadership continues to expand and evolve, it becomes increasingly vital to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of women, whose inclusive and collaborative approaches shape a more equitable and progressive future.

Therefore, we can say that most of the definitions concur that leadership involves an individual’s endeavor to exert influence over groups or followers, with the aim of achieving specific objectives or instigating change. The literature also points to the styles and approaches leaders need to adopt. Among others, we can examine two distinct styles of leadership: the traditional approach, typically associated with male leadership, which involves making decisions and providing directions, and the more feminine leadership style characterized by democratic principles, seeking to unite people in pursuit of a shared purpose.

In the past, within a male-dominated world, the feminine style of leadership was often viewed as unstable and weak, prompting women to adopt more masculine behaviors. It was a common belief that women in positions of power had to emulate male characteristics in order to access the privileges and authority of a patriarchal system. However, contemporary evidence, exemplified by numerous accomplished women in high-ranking positions, demonstrates that women’s leadership has undergone a transformation, giving rise to a distinct and alternative style. This realization led us to reflect upon the challenging environment in which women must navigate to attain positions of power within a male-dominated world. It raises questions about the expectations and behaviors women are compelled to adopt in order to establish and sustain their leadership roles.

Therefore, we can ask: do women continue to face expectations of acting with masculine behaviour? Or can they embrace their feminine behaviors while simultaneously garnering respect from their peers?

The current landscape is marked by shifting times and evolving contexts, where a noticeable trend emerges: the increasing presence of women assuming leadership roles within their communities. They are actively engaging with local and national policy-makers, ensuring that their voices are heard and influencing decision-making processes.

Furthermore, the distinction between masculine and feminine leadership styles is not substantial, but rather a matter of differing perspectives. It can be said that leadership extends beyond the exertion of power or authority and that men tend to perceive leadership as guiding and directing, while women view it as facilitating and fostering collaboration. In practice, women in positions of power focus more on establishing relationships and share experiences within a collective journey, whereas men tend to prioritize fulfilling responsibilities, achieving goals, and attaining victories (Sinclair 2014). Furthermore, leadership is a relational, discursive, and intersubjective phenomenon that emerges through interactions between individuals.[4]

Therefore, Women’s leadership represents a distinctive form of leadership characterized by specific attributes and approaches. Historically, women have been less active in formal leadership positions, facing institutional, socio-economic, and cultural constraints.  However, times are changing, and there is a growing recognition that women can contribute significantly to community affairs, including security, development, and progress.

Especially in the ground, women’s leadership is not limited to top-level positions, but can be exercised by individuals at various levels within organizations or communities. It can support groups to face realities and accept responsibilities, create opportunities and encourage aspiring leaders to foster social learning or sustainable problem solving (leadership trainings in communities). In these cases, leaders are less likely to be upfront and usually work in groups (Sinclair 2012). This form of leadership is frequently observed in community settings, where women assume prominent roles and provide guidance and support to other women or community members in their efforts to drive change. These endeavors can comprehend a wide range of initiatives, such as delivering vital services or advocating for the recognition and fulfillment of rights. This type of activity is not necessarily related to women’s rights; rather, women-led organizations try to provide for the needs of the whole community. Also, women leaders often face unique challenges, such as resistance from some members, lack of funding, and balancing their roles as women and leaders. To address these challenges, they usually adopt strategies such as collaborative leadership styles. Therefore, women’s leadership in community development is characterized by a holistic and bottom-up approach, contrasting the top-down approach typically associated more with male leaders. This approach has demonstrated greater success and impact in community development initiatives (Dowding 2008).

Extensive discourse has taken place regarding the principles of organizing, particularly in the realm of international development and transnational networks, among postcolonial scholars, as well as feminist, indigenous, and other women’s groups. It has been illustrated that women engaged in organizing consistently reject hierarchical structures, dedicating their efforts to fostering interpersonal connections and empowering others. Moreover, they prioritize collective achievements and responsibilities over individual leadership.(Sinclair 2014).

In today’s dynamic landscape, women leaders are witnessing a remarkable era marked by the dismantling of barriers and the forging of new paths for future generations. This represents an extraordinary chapter in the history of women’s leadership, encompassing diverse spheres such as politics, business, and civil society. Contemporary women have created an environment that offers a multitude of possibilities and choices. Whether assuming leadership roles in boardrooms, communities, households, media outlets, or digital networks, women leaders possess an innate talent to inspire others and foster meaningful connections. It is this inherent ability that forms the foundation for driving profound change and achieving significant and lasting outcomes (Morgan, 2021).

When examining women’s leadership in the specific context of the Arab region, it becomes evident that considerable obstacles persist in their journey towards attaining and retaining positions of power. The prevailing cultural mindset in the Arab world perceives leadership as an inherently masculine domain, perpetuating gender biases and impeding the advancement of women. Despite notable initiatives undertaken in recent years to promote gender equality and expand opportunities for women in leadership, the representation of women in such roles, especially in politic, remains limited. It is observed that women are more likely to occupy leadership positions in fields traditionally associated with femininity, including education, health, and religious roles, where they find themselves among their female counterparts. These circumstances reflect the broader socio-cultural context within which women’s leadership is understood and experienced in the Arab region.

Efforts are being made to address these challenges and promote women’s leadership in the Arab world. Some countries have implemented policies and initiatives to enhance gender equality, including quotas for women’s representation in decision-making bodies. Women’s rights activists and organizations are working tirelessly to challenge societal norms and advocate for equal opportunities for women in leadership.

It is crucial to recognize the immense potential and contributions of women in leadership, not just in all-female settings but across all sectors and industries. The inclusion of women’s voices and perspectives in decision-making processes is vital for achieving more balanced and effective leadership. By breaking down barriers, challenging stereotypes, and providing equal opportunities, the Arab region can harness the full potential of women’s leadership and create a more inclusive and progressive society.

As we continue to strive for gender equality and women’s empowerment, it is essential to support and amplify the voices of Arab women leaders, celebrate their achievements, and advocate for systemic changes that promote equal opportunities for all.

[1] Sinclair, Amanda. 2014. “A Feminist Case for Leadership.” In Diversity in Leadership: Australian Women, Past and Present, by Mary Tomsic, edited by Joy Damousi and Kim Rubenstein. ANU Press.

[2] UNDP Gender Equality Seal, “Leadership fitting the purpose of gender equality: “Next Generation,” prepared for UN Women Expert Group Meeting, 6 – 8, October 2015, Geneva, Switzerland.).

[3] Thomas, G. (2011) «Michelle Bachelet’s Liderazgo Femenino (Feminine Leadership): REDEFINING POLITICAL LEADERSHIP IN CHILE’S 2005 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN», International Feminist Journal of Politics 13.1: 63–82

[4]Leadership is a relational, discursive and intersubjective phenomenon [something missing here. It cannot be a phenomenon “between people”. If it is what’s said above, it should contain ” that emerges through interactions”, which is missing] between people (Jackie Ford, ‘Discourses of Leadership: Gender, Identity and Contradiction in a UK Public Sector Organization’, Leadership 2(1) (2006): 77–99)