CIVICUSWithoutWomenAbout 66% of CIVICUS’ staff are women. And while it’s impossible to say what percentage of the whole CIVICUS Alliance’s membership is composed of women, we can safely guess that in a sector dominated by women, there are many member organisations that have more women than men on staff.

Thus, a day without women would be an impossible day for CIVICUS; work at the Secretariat, and quite possibly throughout much of the Alliance’s more than 1,200 member organisations, might just grind to a complete halt if all women workers went on strike.

As Joanna Maycock, head of the European Women’s Lobby in Brussels, clearly demonstrates in Breaking the Glass Pyramid, there is a “failure of our own sphere, civil society, to address gender inequality in our leadership.” We must struggle to consciously address the conditioning and messages we were raised with and that are constantly reinforced every day. So of course, even in progressive civil society spaces, we are frequently replicating the very same kinds of hierarchies internally that we see all the time externally in the broader world.

On this front, CIVICUS’ Secretariat staff (20 men/41 women), management (5 men/5 women), supervisory team (4 men/6 women), and Board of Directors (4 men/9 women) can arguably be ‘cleared’ of any charges of gender blindness, at management or governance levels. If we take an entirely ‘formalistic’ approach, CIVICUS comes up smelling like roses!

But when we dig deeper into any organisation or institution and look more carefully at the challenges women and girls face, whether at home or in education, in the workplace and in society at large, our daily, lived realities can be very different with countless visible and invisible barriers contributing to inequality. Plenty of research shows that women workers are generally expected to pick up the slack on all fronts, to do all the emotional labour and shoulder the ‘care work’ both at home and in the workplace, as well as challenge stereotypes, outperform male counterparts, and confront all sorts of other pressures.

So, this International Women’s Day, the women of CIVICUS challenge our male allies, co-conspirators, colleagues and bosses from across the Alliance to strive towards greater gender equality within our movements and organisations, within our own professional, activist, and personal lives. This requires the efforts of everyone, men included – perhaps even more now so in these times of intense backlash!

To relegate gender equality to a ‘women’s issue’ is to miss the point entirely. So the next time you become aware of discrimination, biases or assumptions preventing women or girls from achieving their full potential, what will you do about it?

*Our commitment to diversity and inclusion led to that being the focus of the 2016 State of Civil Society report and to CIVICUS undertaking an Inclusion Audit to assess how we are doing on gender equality and other axes of diversity. We are taking the learnings and recommendations from the Audit and developing them into concrete action plans and goals for 2017-2022. If you want to keep engaged with CIVICUS activities relating to gender equality, please write to the Gender Working Group, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 

Saira Zuberi, London

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