8 Keys for Faith Leaders to Unlock and Advance Women’s Leadership

Written by Teresa Casale, Mina’s List, for CSW65 side event, “How Religious and Traditional Actors are Advancing Women’s Participation and Leadership in Public Life,” organized by Network for Religious and Traditional Leaders, Cordaid, the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, Religions for Peace, and Mina’s List.


LISTEN to the voices of women in your community, in all of their celebrated forms of identity.


  1. Learn how the issues in your communities affect women and men differently. Noticing these differences is what gender professionals refer to as a ‘gender lens’ which is the opposite of being ‘gender blind’. From wars, to natural disasters, to climate change, and economics, women are impacted differently than men and these differences should be understood and accounted for.
  2. Learn about the barriers that women face as leaders, including barriers that affect different population groups, such as youth, women with disabilities, LGBTQI, ethnic minority women, or women of religious minorities. Use your understanding of your community to address these issues and barriers in a holistic manner that works for women.
  3. Importantly, learn about the many benefits of women’s leadership in all its forms. Mina’s List believes it is a woman’s right to lead, but when she does, it benefits everyone. Research has shown that when women lead politically, countries respond sooner to crisis, are more peaceful and less corrupt, experience better educational outcomes, more investments in health, stronger economic development, and tangible gains for democracy. From the highest public office to the smallest house of worship, when women lead, countries and communities thrive.

Invest in and follow women in positions of faith leadership and all leadership positions.

  1. Men hold the majority of leadership positions in both faith-based and secular spaces. In political leadership, one quarter of parliamentarians in the world today are women and one tenth of heads of state are women. This is, of course, not representative of the general population and is woefully inadequate.
  2. Build the capacity and confidence of women faith leaders by mentoring them and investing in training opportunities so they can not only lead, but lead well and continue to grow.
  3. For women to be lead, someone must follow. Trust them to lead you. Pass the mic and give them space to lead in your own house of worship and in the community.
  4. Support women leaders publicly and loudly, not behind the scenes. Advocate for the full and equal participation and leadership of women at all levels, in both the faith-based and secular spaces.

Use your capacity, connections and convening power to provide space for women to speak and lead. Play a supportive role in uplifting and amplifying their voices through your networks.

  1. Use your networks to connect women and young women to decision-makers to advance their leadership within their communities.
  2. Use your convening power and resources of space, facilities, infrastructure and technology to provide safe spaces for women and young women to actively lead in discussions and decision-making. Utilize your platforms to uplift their voices to inspire change and inspire communities to make the effort to listen and learn.

Help to fund and find funding for women-led initiatives.

  1. Financing is one of the biggest hurdles to women in leadership. Help them access funds when are where available to advance their initiatives within the community.

Collaborate with government officials for institutional change.

  1. As a trusted community leader, use your influence to be more active on the policy level in advancing women’s leadership – help bridge the gap. Call for a more holistic manner in addressing issues that affect women and young women.
  2. Collect evidence for policy change. Utilize the information you have collected on the barriers that women are facing in your communities as leaders to address them at the policy level.

Call out and address violence against women.

  1. Women in public life face disproportionately high levels of violence and harassment. In political leadership, the Inter-Parliamentary Union has found that up to 82% of women parliamentarians have experienced psychological violence.
  2. This violence is a major barrier to women’s participation in all forms of leadership and public life. Look for it, call it out, address it immediately, and reject a culture of impunity.
  3. When women report incidents of violence or harassment, believe them. This is the first and most important step in creating a space where women are safe and where abusers cannot thrive.

Learn, understand and amplify feminist theology.

  1. Challenge misinterpretations and understandings of religious texts, which are utilized to undermine women’s full and equal participation and leadership within their communities.
  2.  Encourage your community to speak up for women and to raise the issue of why gender equality is important for society.

Finally, continue to self-examine.

  1. Commit to a posture of learning and continuously improving.
  2. Humility and a commitment to growth goes a long way.