Women CSO leaders for systemic change

How to support feminist leadership in Europe
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Europe’s civil society plays a central role in bridging societal divides by providing essential services at a large scale, but also by supporting democracy, nurturing solidarity, and building support for systems change. However, too often the sector remains absent from key policy debates and does not feature high on the priority list of policymakers.  

Over the past decade, the sector has provided opportunities for women to find meaning in their work and contribute to societal shifts. As a result, women are now the majority of workers in the sector and are increasingly occupying leadership positions.  

This study, the first-ever of its kind, aims to take stock of the progress of the last decade, as well as identify remaining barriers and new opportunities for women CSO leaders in achieving systemic change in Europe.  

The key findings indicate a concerning trend of burnout among women leaders in the CSO sector, hindering their efforts to drive systemic change. Despite enormous personal dedication, for most women being a transformative CSO leader has come at a great personal cost, including structural overwork, exhaustion, and poor health. Their commitment to societal missions is hampered by a lack of empowerment to enact systemic changes at scale. 

Additionally, the disproportionate burden of care work, exacerbated by COVID-19 challenges, further strains these women CSO leaders. The perfect storm they navigate not only jeopardises their well-being but also undermines the missions of civil society organizations. Unrealistic expectations, escalating workloads, and worsening societal challenges impede these leaders from exercising transformative change at a higher, more systemic level, limiting their impact on organisations and society at large.   

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