Intergenerational Solidarity

Erica Lewis

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


20 years ago I was one of the ‘new voices’ invited to contribute a short piece to Sandra Grey and Marian Sawer’s Women’s Movements: Flourishing or in Abeyance (2008) in that piece I asked “please remember that young women are not the leaders of tomorrow. We are leaders of the women’s movement today. However, do not think that this means that we want to do it without earlier generations of women’s movement activists” (Lewis, 2008, p147). Disappointingly, I'm still making the same argument, that young/er women’s voices and concerns within the women’s movement are too often overlooked, and old/er women need to contribute to making space for young/er women within our organisations – a practice that might be considered one of ‘intergenerational solidarity’. While solidarity has often been considered across race, sexuality and socio-economic groups (Segal, 2013), intergenerational solidarity is more commonly discussed in academic papers in terms of family relationships, rather than as a political practice. One of the few places in which there is a repeating interest in exploring questions of intergenerational work is within feminist organisations, and in journals with close ties to the women’s movement (Abeysekera, 2004, Alpizar and Wilson, 2005). A number of international women’s organisations, the World YWCA, AWID, Isis International, and Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) have ongoing programmes of work to address barriers to young women’s leadership in their organisations. Within the field of leadership studies, the implicit assumption is that our leaders are old, or at least old/er people. Carole A. MacNeil drew attention to this gap within leadership studies through her analysis of Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership noting that although the book reviews “five thousand leadership studies, there is nothing about youth as leaders or about leadership development for youth” (2006, citing Bass 1981). MacNeil’s reference to Stogdill’s handbook dates back to the original publication, however, a brief review of the 4th edition suggests little has changed, while there was one brief and positive mention of old/er leaders within the discussions of minority leaders, no discussion of young/er leaders was readily identifiable (Bass, 2008). But the idea that the under-representation of young people in leadership roles in organisations and civil society is a problem is one that is starting to gain momentum (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2014, United Nations Development Programme, 2013). The arguments as to why it is important that women’s voices are heard in civil society are well rehearsed (Childs and Lovenduski, 2013), and similar arguments can be made for young women, but rarely have been. In this paper I want to highlight why in order to strengthen campaigns such as girls education and child marriage we need to ensure that not only the voices of young women and girls are heard, but that their leadership within our movements and movement organisations are recognised and respected. And that in order to achieve this we will need to develop practices of intergenerational solidarity. References ABEYSEKERA, S. 2004. Social Movements, Feminist Movements, and the State: A Regional Perspective [Online]. Available: [Accessed 7 November 2016]. ALPIZAR, L. & WILSON, S. 2005. Making waves: how young women can (and do) transform organizations and movements. Spotlight. Toronto: Association of Women in Development. BASS, B. M. 2008. Handbook of leadership: theory, research, and application, New York, Free Press. CHILDS, S. & LOVENDUSKI, J. 2013. Political Representation. In: WAYLEN, G., CELIS, K., KANTOLA, J. & WELDON, L. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press. GREY, S. & SAWER, M. 2008. Women's movements: flourishing or in abeyance?, Routledge. INTER-PARLIAMENTARY UNION 2014. Youth Participation in National Parliaments. LEWIS, E. 2008. New Voices. In: GREY, S. & SAWER, M. (eds.) Women's movements: flourishing or in abeyance? Oxon, UK: Routledge. MACNEIL, C. A. 2006. Bridging generations: Applying "adult" leadership theories to youth leadership development. New Directions for Youth Development, Spring, pp27-43. SEGAL, L. 2013. Today, Yesterday & Tomorrow: Between Rebellion and Coalition Building. In: ROWBOTHAM, S., SEGAL, L. & WAINWRIGHT, H. (eds.) Beyond the fragments: Feminism and the making of socialism. London: Merlin Press. UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME 2013. Enhancing Youth Political Participation throughout the Electoral Cycle. New York: United Nations Development Programme.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 Nov 2017
Event10th Biennial Gender, Work & Organisations Conference - International Convention Centre, Sydney, Australia
Duration: 13 Jun 201816 Jun 2018


Conference10th Biennial Gender, Work & Organisations Conference


  • intergenerational
  • solidarity
  • young women
  • women
  • leadership


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