Implications of Gender Disparities in Secular Leadership

Woman with folder

By Elsa Roberts

Earlier this year, Secular Woman compiled the number of women and men working for 15 secular organizations in a staff or board capacity. We found that staff were comprised of 46% women and 54% men while the boards were 31% women and 69% men. The leaders of these organizations were 29% women and 71% men. In every capacity men outnumber women, particularly when it comes to positions of power and leadership (i.e. boards and heads of organizations). This disparity in sex has far reaching implications. Policy, strategy, and goals for organizations in the secular community are affected when the voices of those with more privilege are represented at a rate higher than the voices of those with less privilege. For example, does a secular organization make the target of their separation of church and state about nativity scenes or about religious exemptions to providing women with birth control and abortion as part of their health plan?

When oppressed groups are the minority voice their perspective is often overshadowed by those with more privilege and more social capital. This means that critical issues are not addressed and that the focus of an organization can become myopic - because they are only considering a subset of issues defined as “secular”. Expanding our movement to ensure that women, people of color, working class people, etc. have a voice means allowing our movement’s goals to expand and shift. It means thinking about what constitutes a secular issue in new ways, and it means expanding our notions of what an issue that “everybody” cares about and what everybody is affected by is

This is an exciting time in the secular movement. Like many important social movements before us we are experiencing growing pains as we recognize that our movement must change and expand to include the interests of new members, to become an equitable movement that values social justice and understands the effects of systemic oppression. As atheists we are in a unique position to link instances of systemic oppression with religious influence.

This year Secular Woman is making women’s maintaining bodily autonomy a priority, connecting the ways that religious influence in government is hollowing out women’s liberty and impeding equal access to medical care. Women’s issues are our issues. It’s time we stopped categorizing the issues that directly affect half the population as “special interests” and secular organizations can lead the way by incorporating issues that affect women into our platforms. Let us embrace the women in our midst and promote a culture of equality and insightfulness and take this movement to the next level!

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