The month of April is a very important one for me and this year marks the 10th anniversary of my birthing. A very important, if not, perhaps my most important life moment that happened to take place on Earth Day. Upon deeper reflection on being bestowed with the gift of motherhood and my role as a mother, I feel both challenged and inspired. One might wonder why.
I feel challenged with the responsibility of not only being the best mother that I can and should be to my awesome, beautiful and loving daughter but also in seeking ways to collaborate with others to create conditions so that my daughter and other children might live to experience the full promise of humanity. I am inspired and hopeful that this could be a humanity defined and grounded in spaces where all of humanity; girls, boys, women and men have equal opportunity to thrive and live lives worthy of human dignity.
An area that emerges as a great opportunity for this is within the sphere of leadership. Leadership as defined within the context of all social systems that we interact with on all levels with self and others within the family, community, organizations, greater society as well as in our relationship with nature and the universe – our immediate, intimate and broader cosmic environments.
As I embrace the month of April with all of its beginnings, endings and the greater implications for me on many levels, I also acknowledge the space that I occupy today on my journey of finding more meaning, purpose, authenticity and soul in my work life as could be more holistically reflected through my contributions to humanity as a mother and global citizen.
Carving out a specific area for my sharing and reflections today, I will focus on the nexus of leadership, culture, transformation, sustainability and human rights, paying special attention to the ever-important concept of gender equality. Gender equality is a topic I am deeply passionate about, and one that I have explored in some of my writing, as well as discussed with others in various academic and non academic forums and settings. It is a topic that as a mother I cannot ignore, for it is and has been of central influence in my lived experiences and definitely is and will continue to be for my daughter and other children.
I would like to contextualize my definition of leadership within the framework of sustainability, leveraging Mary Ferdig’s concept of “Sustainability Leadership” that deeply resonates with me. In her paper Sustainability Leadership: Co-creating a More Sustainable Future, Ferdig (2007) calls upon us to redefine leadership – moving away from position leadership to what she calls “sustainability leadership” where “anyone who takes responsibility for understanding and acts on sustainability challenges – whether or not a formal leadership position is a sustainability leader.”
Ferdig asserts, “Sustainability leadership reflects an emerging consciousness among people who are choosing to live their lives and lead their organizations in ways that account for their impact on the earth, society, and the health of local and global economies.” She explains that “those of us living in the 21st century are called upon to rethink our definition and experience of leadership and address sustainability in immediate, meaningful and productive ways. Instead of looking to others for guidance and solutions, we are called to look to the leader within ourselves. There critical and interrelated areas require our thoughtful attention of how we are to move toward a sustainable future.”
Ferdig outlines some areas that can help leaders, all of us, co-create conditions for a sustainable future for humanity that must include the understanding that:
- Leaders must take responsibility for fostering sustainable conditions in workplaces, communities and on a global scale.
- The leader’s role must include capabilities beyond those we currently attribute to leaders, primarily learning what it means to be a leader “with” others instead of “of” or “over” others.
- Leaders cannot effectively operate outside the holistic interconnectedness that exists along and between people and natural systems. (p. 3).
Ferdig’s position that “Sustainability leadership reflects an emerging consciousness among people who are choosing to live their lives and lead their organizations in ways that account for their impact on the earth, society, and the health of local and global economies” is a great challenge to us all – the leaders that we are and can be. It connotes and reinforces the idea that leadership is not an event, technique or style but a way of being. A way of being in leadership that takes into account our “impact on the earth, society and the health of local and global economies.”
In exploring the nexus of leadership, culture, human rights, transformation and sustainability, I would like to highlight the intersection of “sustainability leadership” as defined by Ferdig, and gender equality from a human rights perspective. One of the definitions that the Oxford Online Dictionary provides for “society” is “the community of people living in a particular country or region and having shared customs, laws, and organizations.” The key word here being “people” which translates to human beings, humanity or the human family.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights preamble asserts that the “… recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” It further states that “… the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifies that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Article 2 says that “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”
It is from the space of seeking to promote the provisions enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights aimed at enabling “social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” that I also feel challenged as a mother and global citizen to join in this conversation of exploring ways all leaders might be inspired to collectively work towards realizing this goal that is crucial for the sustainability of humanity’s full promise of lives worthy of human dignity. Our promise and hope for today’s children and to future generations.
Wikipedia says that “Gender equality is also known as sex equality or sexual equality or equality of the genders, which implies that men and women should receive equal treatment unless there is a sound biological reason for different treatment.” As perhaps some of us might relate, our views and understanding of the concept of gender equality is aligned with the way we have been socialized or enculturation. According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, enculturation is “the process by which an individual learns the traditional content of a culture and assimilates its practices and values.”
For instance, in patriarchal values driven societies, the concept of gender equality would probably be considered a laughable fallacy because the prevailing thinking is that boys and men are more valuable than girls and women and therefore deserve to be treated better – bringing into life the idea of male privilege. In his 2005 book, The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Allan G. Johnson pointed out that “we are trapped in a legacy and its core is patriarchal. To understand it and take part in the journey out, we have to find ways to unravel the knot, and this begins with getting clear about what it means to be inside a patriarchal legacy.”
Johnson asserted, “Patriarchy is not simply another way of saying ‘men.’ Patriarchy is a kind of society and a society is more than a collection of people. As such, ‘patriarchy’ doesn’t refer to me or any other man or collection of men, but to a kind of society in which men and women participate.” He further explained that “a society is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, male identified, and male centered. It is also organized around an obsession with control and involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women.”
It is therefore my assertion that for leaders of either gender to be able to make the shift from conventional leadership and move into the space of “sustainability leadership” one of the things they must do is to engage in deep critical self-reflection to examine their personal views and understanding of the concept of gender equality. Leaders can start doing this by identifying and testing the cultural assumptions that they hold that continue to inform and sustain their understanding and practice of gender equality and justice as measured against their greater calling and responsibility as leaders to, as Ferdig suggested, “take responsibility for fostering sustainable conditions in workplaces, communities and on a global scale.”
I imagine that that responsibility MUST include co-creating conditions that enable the realization of fundamental human rights that are outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by acknowledging “the dignity and worth of the human person,” upholding “the equal rights of men and women” in order to “promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
I am reminded of an image and statement that was posted today on Price of Silence’s Facebook page noting that “A culture for the social betterment of each other begins by illuminating our interconnectedness. Maps have drawn borders, but people don’t, nor does humanity. The dignity of women is essential for the realization of the full dignity prowess of all of humanity.” I imagine that “the realization of the full dignity prowess of humanity” would be a sure path to ensuring the sustainability of humanity. Humanity that is undeniably made up of girls, boys, women and men that are all worthy of equal treatment in respect and dignity for in our interconnectedness, we all have equal rights and human dignity.
Leaders that seek to carve out more meaningful leadership practice in the 21st century must start perceiving themselves as stewards serving a higher calling that is inseparable from taking a stand for humanity. They must make a break-through in enabling cultural transformation that is required to shift mental models that inhibit them from acknowledging the full humanity of girls and women. Mental models that prevent them from embracing the concept of gender equality should be rejected.
As a prerequisite in orientation and being leaders, women and men must challenge the idea of male privilege and seek ways of facilitating “social progress” and justice for humanity. All leaders MUST find ways to demonstrate their ability to live up to their role and responsibility of promoting “social progress” by breaking away from conventional culturally inspired comfort zones that inform their conformity to ways of being in leadership that continue to undermine their ability to meaningfully contribute to the “realization of the full dignity prowess of all of humanity.”
As noted on the United Nations Family and Population Agency (UNFPA) website, it is important to pay attention to “the interconnections between culture, gender and human rights and their impact in programming. Gender equality is simultaneously a goal and a human right and gender mainstreaming is a cross-cutting strategy for achieving this goal. Cultural factors need to be taken into account in an entry point strategy and a social framework.”
I would add to UNFPA’s position that “the interconnections between culture, gender and human rights” and their impact on leadership must be seriously inspected in order to make room for the required transformation that would put humanity on a path of meaningful human development that creates conditions for all people to live lives worthy of human dignity.
Transformation would require leaders to embrace a new story for humanity where all of humanity is acknowledged, celebrated and our intrinsic collective humanity is made visible. In concluding Part 1 of this article, I would like to share “Sustainable Man’s” video that was recently posted on Facebook on the need for a “New Story of the People.” The powerful message in this video emphasizes the need for us to embrace our interconnection. In narrating this new story, Charles Eisenstein, author of ‘The Ascent of Humanity’ and ‘Sacred Economics, points out that “The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation. Once the story our world is built on reflects the reality of interconnection, we will be on a true path towards sustainability.”
Leaders have a responsibility to facilitate the realization of this new story that includes a process of embracing our collective humanity and interconnectedness to serve as social change catalysts that can relieve what “Sustainable Man” calls the “pain of existing in our cultures” – particularly for girls and women across all human activity systems. Leaders have the moral responsibility, calling and opportunity to bring this “New Story of the People” to life by as noted in the video “disrupting the old story.”
Old stories like the one of patriarchy separates us on the basis of gender. Disrupting the story of patriarchy would mean taking a stand for humanity and choosing to “let go of the paradigm of control and bow into service to something larger than ourselves.” A disruption that would be a clear alternative of choosing to be in service for humanity and an emergence of bold leadership for humanity in practice.
To be continued in a future post.
Read other posts by Kerubo Abuya
Keep up with our community: Facebook | Twitter | Saybrook’s Organizational Systems Program