Principles and Practices

4W activities are grounded in human rights principles that build upon one another, beginning with basic needs and freedom from harm, and moving toward full agency, equality, and global leadership. The following principles and practices are what guide our work and help us build capacity to make change.

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1. Gender Analysis Fundamentals

Gender roles – the behaviors and values deemed “appropriate” for men and women – are deeply embedded in our society, often so much so that their effects are difficult to notice. Gender analysis helps us uncover the systematic disparities caused by gender roles and explore ways to correct them in favor of women. But what does it mean to analyze research and practice with a gendered lens? We pose these questions to all students and scholars involved in 4W activities. How can we move beyond rigid definitions of gender roles? How can we speak out against stigma, discrimination, and oppression? And equally important, how can we empower ourselves to take action and make changes. Our work is guided by the lived experiences of women, particularly those from marginalized groups and low-resource settings. We use gender as our starting point toward inclusion of all historically marginalized identities, acknowledging that gender justice is intimately linked to other kinds of equality, such as racial, environmental, and economic justice. Through our innovative, research-to-action projects, 4W has the unique ability to influence civil society actors, the private sector, policy makers, and other change agents. Thus, it is critical that we employ gender analysis fundamentals to shed light on inequalities and offer promising solutions that privilege the perspectives of women.

2. Feminist Leadership for All

While there are many working definitions of feminist leadership, we favor that of Gerda Lerner, a pioneer in women’s history whose knowledge and expertise led to the creation of UW-Madison’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies. Lerner described feminist leadership as “…something that replaces and surpasses you, that has a life of its own because there are many people who will be drawn into it and who will give leadership to it as a group, even. The point is that wherever we are as women, wherever we are situated in our lives, we can advance a feminist agenda if we stop thinking about how to be leaders and think rather about how to be doers, how to be agents if you move on or go away.” Lerner’s definition incorporates themes of solidarity, inclusion, leadership, and sustainability – all values of the 4W Initiative. Together as “doers,” we work to deconstruct social norms, then reconstruct and reimagine a life that is better for women and a world that is better for all. The “better for all” phrase of the 4W mission points to the transformative powers of feminist leadership. It opens a door to a broad range of issues and a full and truly holistic feminist praxis – including all people, all species, all places, and our planet. Through our feminist leadership praxis, 4W works to understand, reimagine, and leverage the unique role of higher education for global change. For more about 4W’s feminist leadership approach, see Feminist Leadership and the 4W Initiative: Reflections and implications for transformative praxis in higher education (April 2019).

3. Voice and Agency

4W aims to uplift diverse voices and foster agency, that is, the ability to make change, in Wisconsin and around the world. We cultivate this kind of leadership through our 4W circles. Through regular meetings, collaborative networking, and professional mentorship, we respond to the needs and aspirations of 4W leaders. We support artistic expression, public scholarship, and conference participation, and we raise the voices of our leaders on social media. We also provide resources related to gender analysis, wellbeing, feminist leadership, and inclusive practices. 

4. The 4W Wellbeing Model

Our 4W Wellbeing model, “Gender, Wellbeing, and the Ecological Commons,” recognizes multiple dimensions of wellbeing, which enable people to sense and express more specific and contextualized understandings of their lived experiences. Our daisy model identifies 11 dimensions of wellbeing (the petals) that are organized in 4 thematic quadrants: freedom and safety, lifelong health, human connection, and thriving. These aspects of wellbeing can be further understood in terms of the various social spheres (the circles) where they take place, including family, peer groups, community, and society. 

Wellbeing dimensions (petals) organized for an activity with high school students.
Wellbeing dimensions (petals) organized for an activity with high school students.

Our wellbeing model has been used in a range of settings – from adolescent girls in afterschool programs, to survivors of human trafficking, to rural farmers in Ecuador, Ghana, and Kenya, to UW students and colleagues in our professional network. Each engagement broadens and strengthens our holistic understanding of wellbeing, as we listen, learn, and incorporate new insights and perspectives into the model. Thus, this model has grown and evolved over time, capturing new meanings about what it means to feel safe, be connected, have purpose, and thrive!


4W Wellbeing Model
Student from UW-Madison’s LEAP Forward Program engages with the 4W wellbeing model during an interactive activity connecting art and wellbeing (June 2018).
Student from UW-Madison’s LEAP Forward Program engages with the 4W wellbeing model during an interactive activity connecting art and wellbeing (June 2018).