How can cooperatives contribute to fostering gender equality?

13 Dec 2017

A session organised within the International Co-operative Alliance’s Global Conference in Malaysia entitled “Integrating gender equality into your co-operative” joined together co-operative experts from all around the global to explore how to make co-ops an equal space for both men and women.

The session opened with introductory remarks from Ms Kanako Miyazawa, the Senior International Officer of the Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union (JCCU) and by Dr Nandini Azad, the Vice-Chairperson of the ICA Asia and Pacific Committee on Women. According to the presenters, despite global progress, many countries are still grappling with low sex-ratios, unequal pay between men and women, low employment rates for women, and low participation rates of women in decision-making positions in various organisations.

“The process of co-op development would be enhanced if women’s voices were heard”, said Dr Nandini Azad.

The participants also listened to short presentations by Ms Marjaana Saarikosk, from the SOK Corporation in Finland, and Ms Stefania Marcone from the Alliance of Italian Co-operatives, who shared inspiring stories from their respective countries, showing how these could be emulated by other countries as well. The Alliance of Italian Co-operatives, developed over time particular attention to the issue of conciliation and valorisation of women's employment and participation.

This was followed by break-out sessions where the participants were told to split in groups and discuss amongst them the following questions: What is gender integration or gender equality? What are the challenges posed to gender equality in co-ops? What can the vision to have more gender-just co-ops be?

Six groups were created and each group came up with interesting ideas on the questions posed. There were overlapping points and participants also agreed that there was a need for large-scale behavioural change to affect any gender equality. They suggested facilitating training on collection of gender-disaggregated data, since the lack of statistics is a huge impediment in implementing gender-sensitive policies. Another point made was that the conversation also needed to go beyond gender binaries, and include trans people as well. There should be gender mainstreaming of co-operative budgets, to sustain the goal of gender equality, they said. Regulatory structures and laws should also be in consonance with the overarching need for equal treatment of male and female co-operators. Dr Azad closed the workshop by summarising the points made by all groups, and praising participants for coming up with important suggestions.

Photo: Dr Nandini Azad speaking at the conference in Malaysia

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