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September 29, 2014

Values into Action – Women’s Leadership at ActionAid

Judith Davey

Guest Blog from Judith Davey, ActionAid Director

A Long Road to Travel

Most researchers agree that 70 per cent of the world’s poor are women and girls.  International development organisations advocate for alleviation of poverty for women around the world.  Yet, women lead just 12 per cent of the largest non-governmental organisations (NGOs) focused on international development in the US and 27 per cent  in the UK[1].  While the workforce is predominantly female, the top posts in many of these organisations are still held by men. There’s a long road to travel…

ActionAid’s Mission

ActionAid’s mission is to eradicate poverty and injustice for all, and we have made a strategic choice to prioritise women and girls in the 46 countries in which we work.  Women and girls are subject to such discrimination that they suffer the effects of poverty and injustice first and worst.  Not only do we work to address the underlying causes of some of the toughest issues facing women and girls, we also prioritise women’s leadership and political participation.

Hafaza, Chandpur, Bangladesh

Hafeza leads a Reflect Circle to help women discuss and learn from each other in Chandpur, Bangladesh

Women’s Leadership at ActionAid

We also prioritise women’s leadership within our organisation.   We strive for gender balanced Boards and Senior Leadership Teams, and actively monitor this.  Following a global survey in mid-2014 on how we embed equality for women in our culture and ways of working, we are now building action plans to implement the recommendations arising from the review.  The recommendations include prioritising female leadership development, and fora in every country which are open to both men and women to ensure that we have a safe space where we can discuss how we can improve.

ActionAid in the UK

In the UK we campaign on violence against women and girls, as gender-based violence is deeply rooted in cultural norms (including in Britain) and want governments around the world to take action to prevent this.

We also strive to put our values into action internally within the organisation. Gender balance is borne in mind when recruiting trustees to the ActionAid UK Board, and two thirds of the Senior Leadership Team are female. I am the champion for Women’s Rights in the Senior Leadership Team and these responsibilities are built into my personal goals.  I’m currently working with colleagues on how to improve our women’s leadership development and working practices.

The Journey to Gender Equality

No organisation is perfect. ActionAid is proud of the stand we take and the work that we do. However, we do recognise that there’s a great deal that we can do to improve.  Our invitation to you is to stand with us and speak out against discrimination and inequality. Together we can make a real difference

Judith Davey, ActionAid Director of People, Performance & Accountability

Thank you Judith from The Glass Lift Team for those interesting and thought provoking words. For more information see and to follow Judith on Twitter @JudithEDavey @ActionAidUK

[1] Women in leadership: ‘It’s not going to work the way we’re doing it’ Guardian Development Professionals August 2013.




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