Oxfam on tour, Olympic stadium, Barcelona. Credit: Andy hall

How we’re building a feminist Oxfam GB

and

Gender

Oxfam on tour, Olympic stadium, Barcelona. Credit: Andy hall
Oxfam on tour, Olympic stadium, Barcelona. Credit: Andy hall

As the recently appointed Co-Directors of Women’s Rights and Gender Justice for Oxfam GB, we are thrilled to be setting out together on this exciting journey. We want to be part of the project to build a feminist Oxfam. In our shared role we want to show a different model of leadership to create an Oxfam with a different, more collaborative way of working based on feminist principles, and an Oxfam that works to support women across the globe to raise their voices and speak their truth to power.

What does a feminist Oxfam mean?

A feminist Oxfam places the utmost importance on not only the “what” we do but how” we do it. As part of that ‘how’ we have developed a set of feminist principles across the whole of Oxfam. These feminist principles start by recognising power and the need to challenge unequal power based on social inequality (gender, race, sexual identity, class, standard of education etc). In order to embed these principles, we must examine ourselves, reflecting on the role we all play in these power relations (as individuals and as an organisation), and think of ourselves as part of a broader movement of people challenging these inequalities.

As a feminist organisation, we don’t take over other peoples’ struggles. In taking up the cause we must never take over the space, but instead enable the voices of others (#PassTheMic). The freedom of people to express themselves and make their own choices is central to development and progress. Many women don’t enjoy that freedom because of barriers, including violence, or the threat of violence, that surrounds their lives. As a feminist organisation, Oxfam is committed to promoting an environment where the rights of women, men and gender non-binary people are protected and upheld.

Feminism is for everyone – women, men and people of all gender identities. It is not about exclusion, aggression or one gender coming out on top. It is simply a quest for equality. Our feminist principles set out the many areas of work our organisation should already be celebrating as feminist, and the practical things we can do to improve even further. As we seek to build an organisation which enables, and stands in solidarity with others, it is important that feminist principles are embedded and embraced in all corners of our organisation, in all our relationships with each other, and with those with whom we work outside of the organisation – from supporters and those who visit our shops, to allies and partners, donors and other INGOs.

The benefit to our sector

Patriarchal norms negatively impact us all and feminist principles highlight how the issues of economic, social and environmental justice can never be resolved without gender justice.

We are convinced that infusing Oxfam’s work practices and approaches with feminist principles will make us a stronger and safer organisation. Feminist principles shine a light on how different inequalities intersect with each other and shape how different people experience the injustices of poverty. Oxfam can respond to these differences. We will make our organisation, and all the work we do, as safe as possible. We understand that we can never fully eliminate risk, but we must take responsibility for creating a culture of trust and empowerment, a culture in which people feel safe to report issues and trust our systems, and one where we care for and show solidarity to those we work with.

We know that we must also be accountable. Accountability needs to be hard-wired into our relationships – with staff and volunteers, as well as the partners, individuals and women’s rights organisations we work with. By building a feminist Oxfam, we aspire to be an organisation that is more resilient and responsive to the challenges of the future, and a better ally to those we work alongside. However, we do not believe that we will ever be able to call ourselves a feminist organisation: that judgement belongs to others. We want to work alongside our colleagues and allies to create a feminist mechanism for accountability, where women’s rights organisations – particularly in the global South – can hold us accountable for our feminist behaviours. 

Our hope is that by working to become a feminist Oxfam we will, in time, be perceived as a positive example to others in the sector. We want to create dialogue around changing how we do international development and humanitarian work, in solidarity and in partnership with the Global South.

Author
Saranel Benjamin

Saranel Benjamin

Co-Director of Women's Rights & Gender Justice, Oxfam GB. Saranel is an activist of South African origin who was Interim Head of Research and Programme Policy at ActionAid. Prior to ActionAid UK, Saranel was Director of International Development at War on Want where she worked with organisations and social movements in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Saranel is a Board Member of the Gender & Development Network.

Author
Fenella Porter

Fenella Porter

Co-Director of Women's Rights & Gender Justice, Oxfam GB. Her background is in Gender and International Development, Global Labour and Trade Union Studies. Her work has included academic research and teaching, and extensive work with NGOs, women’s organisations and trade unions, both in the UK and internationally. She is a member of several professional and activist networks and associations, and is currently a trustee of Womankind Worldwide.