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Women were living in a lot of oppression so when they realised the power within themselves they wanted to act on it to make sure that they are free. They also saw the need to use the power with their friends so they act in a collective and use the power to make sure that things are really transforming for everyone.

Sibongile Chibwe Singile, JASS Malawi


We strive to resist and challenge coercive power over by building and mobilizing transformative power. This is not a simple or linear process but, over time, we can collectively build power to make change happen.

Power is…


dynamic and relational

Unequal relations of power and the beliefs that sustain them are always contested and shifting.

neither good nor bad

It depends on how it is used and for what purpose – power over is often oppressive, unequal, and violent, but transforming power can make deep changes for the better.

systemic and structural

Unequal power relations are embedded in and perpetuated by institutions of our society, not only in interactions between people.


It impacts us in obvious ways – discrimination, exclusion, repression – but also in invisible ways – the ideas and beliefs we internalize.

at work inside us

We are often unaware of the norms, values, and conditioned behaviors that we internalize from birth and through the narratives and misinformation promoted by powerful interests.

sustained through violence

A mix of coercion, threats, and violence sustains inequitable power, while resistance and efforts for change are met with backlash.

operating in all spaces

Feminism teaches us that the personal is political, and that power operates fluidly in public, private, and intimate spaces.


Unequal power relations are shaped by gender, race, ethnicity, class, location, ability and other factors, and thus building movements demands an intersectional approach.

Power is the capacity of individuals or groups to determine who gets what, who does what, who decides what, and who sets the agenda.

Srilatha Batliwala, quoting and expanding on the definition by Aruna Rao and David Kelleher


Power is fundamental to every aspect of JASS’ movement-building work – understanding, building, confronting, and transforming power.



State and formal power exercised through laws, rules, courts, institutions, policies, decision-making and the enforcement of rules.


Organized private interests – including corporations, extractive industries, fundamentalist groups, and narco-traffickers – that work behind the scenes to influence and control resources, media, policing and the state.


Internalized beliefs, social norms, culture, and conditioned behavior that shape people’s worldview and sense of what is ‘right’ or ‘normal’, and the manipulation of these beliefs through narratives to legitimize political ideas, action, and violence.


Over-arching systems and structures of power that underlie and enforce the other three.



Power over


●  refers to the negative, oppressive forms of power we often associate with power

●  exploits or controls people by setting the rules, defining access to resources, and shaping what is considered ‘normal’

●  relies on maintaining compliance through various forms of reward and punishment, domination, and coercion. Violence – or the threat of violence – prevents change

There is a continual contestation between those with power and those who seek change.

Transformative power…


●  is the individual and collective power we mobilize to build movements

● derives from building collective knowledge, vision and strength

●  fuels people and movements to resist, confront, engage, and ultimately change oppressive forms of power

●  advances our vision of care and repair for people and the planet

Power over and transformative power are not two distinct arenas; they are present everywhere. Just as power over can be present in our own organizations and leadership, transformative power is possible in the cracks and opportunities for change that we find in the dominant structures of power.


We need the kind of power that extends to our organisations and movements so that together we are stronger and able to resist. Indeed, our movements are born out of resistance to the forces and forms of power that dominate, subordinate, and oppress and it is this kind of power we equip ourselves to challenge and transform, when we nurture and nourish our organisations and movements through self-care and well-being.

Hope Chigudu, Rudo Chigudu: Strategies for Building an Organisation with a Soul

As someone working on human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda, what we usually look at are the visible forces that we see opposing us every day: the old laws and the new laws, the media, the things that we see. And we look of course at the churches and the pastors, but then we forget the invisible forces, the norms, the culture, the issues that inform the everyday person, these invisible forces that hold the power.

Frank Mugisha, Sexual Minorities Uganda

The systemic inscription of people in relationships of power and privilege necessitates deep work on the part of movements, to disrupt, dismantle, and heal the resulting social realities, but also to decolonize our minds, imaginations, sense of self, and sense of possibility. This political commitment and work are both part of and are necessary to our liberation.

Shereen Essof, JASS


Power is an ever-present aspect in our lives and work, so we begin to make sense of it with our own lived experiences of power, not with abstract definitions and frameworks. Power can be an uncomfortable topic because we’ve all felt and even internalized oppressive forms of power. But using creative methods in a safe space, we can open up personal and collective insights that help us make sense of power.

To understand, build, confront, and transform power, JASS’ feminist movement-building toolkit includes these and a variety of activities for groups and resources for further learning.

Sources of Transforming Power

Understanding “Power Over”: An Introduction to Power Analysis

Power Analysis for Strategy

Mapping Power

Check out more movement-building tools about Power on our We Rise website.


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