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Women’s History Month with Alicia Wallace

Learn how Women's History Month is important for Equality Bahamas director Alicia Wallace and what makes a woman a great leader.

By Suhra Nahib on March 30, 2022

March is Women’s History Month, an opportunity to honor and acknowledge women and girls who have demonstrated superior leadership. Women today and throughout history have faced hardship and discrimination, but despite those hurdles, women have held their heads high and fought for equality.

We have many outstanding women leaders globally and nationally, including Alicia Wallace. Wallace is the director of Equality Bahamas. The organization focuses on supporting vulnerable communities, women, and LBGTQ+ rights through advocacy and community engagement. Wallace’s community work has been recognized nationally as well as internationally. She has worked with multiple nonprofit organizations in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and the Caribbean. Below, Wallace shares some insights.

What does Women’s History Month mean to you?

Women’s History Month, in very real terms, means an exponential increase in work for me. International Women’s Day and the Commission on the Status of Women are in March, and there are far more events than it is possible to attend. Beyond that reality, it is a time to reflect on the progress we have made and to use the spotlight that we get during these 31 days to determine how we will make the kind of history that women in 20, 30, and 50 years will celebrate. It’s important to use this month to draw attention to pressing issues, to connect with others doing similar work, and to push for more progress.

What qualities make a great female leader?

We need the same qualities in all leaders. Integrity, empathy, willingness to learn, and dedication to equality are critical qualities. Leaders have to care about doing what is right, no matter the optics. They have to be active listeners, responsive to the needs of constituents, and eager to expand their knowledge and understanding through meaningful engagement, regular assessments, and attention to new perspectives. They have to be able to see beyond the majority and the loudest voices in order to reach and truly serve the people who are in the greatest need. These are qualities that seem to now be expected and assumed of women in leadership, but ought to be the standard for all leaders. Leadership is not about wielding power, but sharing it, and not about eschewing emotion, but tapping into it and transforming it into actions to benefit constituents. 

Why is it important that more women are represented in leadership roles? 

Representation is important in two main ways—to have a voice on issues that affect women as a broad constituency and to make visible our significant, far-reaching, impactful contributions to our communities. Women have always been leaders. We have led and continue to lead households. We lead faith-based groups. We lead in service to people in the most need. We have long been the confidants, advisers, and strategists of public-facing leaders. Our leadership has generally been unrecognized, or characterized in passive ways. We need more women in public leadership to demonstrate our capabilities, to represent women and girls, and to have our contributions acknowledged. Beyond focusing on women in leadership, we need to advocate and strategize for diverse women in leadership, recognizing that all women’s experiences are not the same and one woman cannot represent us all. We need women with disabilities, migrant women, LBGTQ+ women, and rural women in positions of power to present the specific issues their communities face, decentralize power, and move us toward equality.

How can women develop their leadership skills?

Women are trained for leadership all our lives. As girls, we are given adult responsibilities. We learn to cook and clean, we supervise the younger children in the family, and help our parents to hold household knowledge. As we get older, we are given the responsibility to control the behavior of men and boys. We are told to dress, sit, walk, and speak in certain ways to avoid certain kinds of interactions. We learn restraint. We learn resilience. We learn empathy. We learn to use silence, so often required of us, in interesting, productive, subversive ways. Women, frankly, do not need to put time or effort into learning leadership skills. The suggestion that we do is tightly tied to patriarchal ideas about the form and purpose of leadership, and that is what we need to change. The only difference in leadership between women and men is the gender relations forced upon us, and even those seem to lead to women being better leaders than men.

What do feminist organizing and leadership look like in 2022?

Feminist organizing is increasing online. It is about access. We have been organizing across borders for decades, and much of that work has depended on meeting in the same place for large conferences. Now, in a pandemic, that is less feasible, but we have many tools and resources available to us. It is time to question our methods and provoke new ways of connecting, building and collaborating. Who is in the space? Why are people missing? What would make it possible for more people to participate? We have to increase access to our spaces and put resources into increasing our numbers, our capacity and our impact across regions and thematic areas of work.

How can women support other women in their organizations?

Women can support other women by publicly acknowledging their achievements, giving them credit for their work and holding others accountable. This could be as simple as telling someone they have just repeated a point made by a woman, or by interrupting someone who has interrupted a woman. Naming misogynistic behavior makes people more aware of what they are doing or witnessing. It is not enough to privately tell a woman that she has done a good job, or that you saw what happened to her. Do it where others can hear it and learn from it. Make women’s leadership a norm in the organization and make it uncomfortable for anyone who tries to undermine it.

Growing up, was or is there a woman in your life who inspired you to become who you are today?

I spent a lot of time with my great-grandmother, and she is one of the reasons I have also known that there is no such thing as a gender role. She was always the head of the family, she worked hard to build  her house, she ran a successful business for 50 years. She taught the boys to cook, clean and sew, just as she taught the girls. She supported her grandchildren and great-grandchildren in their educations, careers and family lives. There was nothing she could not or would not do for herself or for us. Even in her loving and giving, she was always no-nonsense, sharp-tongued and unapologetic about her positions. She did not let her life revolve around work, always taking time for great vacations and indulging in the things she truly enjoyed. I look to her life to see many possibilities, especially balance. As a child, I wanted to be like her. As an adult, I am not her, but her fire burns deeply within me.

Photo Credit: Blair J. Meadows

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