The International Co-operative Alliance and the International Labour Organisation have published a report that examines how co-operatives help to promote gender equality. The report was released ahead of the International Day of Co-operatives on 4 July, which this year was themed “Choose co-operatives, choose equality”.
The research involved an online survey that gathered perspectives from around the world, and follow-up interviews with key informants. Overall 581 participants responded to the survey, 75% of which said they believed co-operatives had improved participation of women over the past 20 years.
Interviewees pointed out that co-operatives also facilitate various indirect effects on women’s employment. They explained how in fields such as food security, finance, housing, healthcare, childcare and eldercare, co-operatives provide women with affordable and accessible services, which enable women to work while meeting their basic needs.
Interviewees also see co-operative-led awareness raising activities as having an impact on the status of women and their livelihood. With these initiatives co-operatives help raise awareness of issues such as child labour, child marriage, HIV, gender-based violence and alcoholism. Another area where co-operative play an important role is training. According to the interviewees, co-operative members also gain training, skills and experience to which they would not otherwise have access to.
Around 80% of survey respondents said that co-operatives are better than other types of private businesses in advancing gender equality. They also said that 60% of the co-operatives with which they are most familiar have equality, inclusion and diversity policies or strategies in place. However, almost 50% of them said that training sessions relevant to women’s empowerment and gender equality are never held within the co-operatives which they are most familiar.
Survey respondents and interviewees have also suggested areas for further work to achieve gender equality. Respondents pointed to opportunities in areas of women in leadership, implementation of gender equality strategies, co-operation among co-operatives and the role of government. Interviewees recommended, among others, that co-operatives adopted equality action plans and internal gender equality committees and standards. Other equality measures they suggested included the promotion of spaces and events that enhance the visibility of women and men in the co-operative and subscription to national and international agreements on gender equality.
Picture: members of Si se puede of New York, a co-operative of women immigrants that provide cleaning services