For us, by us?: investigating how women leaders centre women in their development planning practice

Ncame, Sikhokele
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The majority of studies that have been conducted on the subject matter of women leaders have primarily focused on how women’s styles of leadership differ from those of their male counterparts. The study presented in this research report, which was conducted in the period between March 2019 and April 2020, investigates how women in top leadership positions in development organisations centre women at the grassroots level in their daily development practice. The title of this study, “For Us, By Us?...”is indicative of how this study interrogates the extent to which women leaders feel an obligation to be women-centric in their development planning practice once they ascend into top leadership positions in South Africa’s development organisations. In creating a literary framework for the research, the study has highlighted the barriers women face in their ascension to top management positions within public and private sector organisations. It has also drawn attention to how, even when appointed, women often command less power than their male colleagues. This leads the study to explore why and how women-sensitive approaches to development have found a home in the gender and development (GAD) discourse, and how this discourse has been translated in the creation of legislation in the South African context. Since the drafting of the Constitution in 1996, gender mainstreaming in the South African legislative framework has been a practice that has been encouraged and endorsed by the Bill of Rights and Section 9(4). It is widely understood that public policy has to assess the different implications of any planned policy action for people of different genders. This includes legislation and programmes in all areas and levels of civic life. While strides towards gender equality have been made in the period since then, a lot more still needs to be done to ensure that women enjoy equal rights and equal opportunity. The research findings chapter concerns itself with the practicalities of women-centric development and the strategic ways women leaders work towards realising this ideal for their presumed constituents in the development field. One of the biggest takeaways from this chapter is that there is no set or defined outcome when you incorporate more women into the leadership structure of an organisation. The social justice imperatives that women choose to align themselves with professionally are contingent on a larger set of variables that are not necessarily determined by their gender. The women in this study, however, made it a point to centre women in the development initiatives and programmes they championed in their professional spaces. The presence of women in leadership does not have a definitive set of outcomes, but the study revealed that there is the consensus that representation matters
A research report submitted to the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment, School of Architecture and Planning, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Science in Development Planning, 2021