Background Information on Gender

   This document has been made available in electronic format
           by the International Co-operative Alliance.

                ILO - ICA Training Package 

                 AN ILO - ICA PERSPECTIVE

            2 Hours on Gender Issues in Cooperatives:
 An introductory session on gender issues for cooperative leaders

             Background Information on Gender

1.      The gender concept 

The term gender refers to the socially-determined and culturally-
specific differences between women and men as opposed to the
biologically determined differences. The concept 'gender' is an
important analytical tool in the planning, management, monitoring
and evaluation of development programmes or cooperative projects
as requires that women are considered in relation to men in a
socio-cultural setting and not as an isolated group. 

One refers to gender issues as opposed to women's issues because
the issues concern both men and women. In regard to cooperatives
it is important to analyse the role and position of men and women
in their socio-economic environment in order to identify and
address their different needs, to be able to develop their
strengths and potentials and to ensure an equitable distribution
of the benefits of cooperative development.

2.      Gender roles

Gender roles are roles that are played by both women and men
which are not determined by biological factors, but by the socio-
economic and cultural environment or situation. For example, in
parts of Africa and Latin America unskilled construction work is
regarded as 'men's work', whereas in India it is regarded as
'women's work.'

Women's productive and reproductive roles: Women are in most
societies responsible for all domestic activities such as
housework, food preparation and child rearing (reproductive
role), in addition to their involvement in economic/income-
generating activities (productive role). 

This "double day" results in general in a heavier workload on
women than on men (although this also depends on social class,
age or ethnic group). In the poorer rural and urban areas, for
example, women are often engaged in activities such as food crop
production, assisting in family cash crop production (planting
and weeding), market gardening, informal commerce, small-scale
manufacturing etc. in addition to their household and family care

It is important to distinguish between the productive and
reproductive roles when planning women's programmes as women
spend a lot of time on reproductive activities and productive
work. It should also be noted that women's work in both areas is
often not remunerated and therefore does not appear in official
(or national) economic statistics.

3.      Practical and strategic gender needs

Because women and men have different gender roles, they also have
different needs. Practical gender needs are those which address
women's and men's immediate needs in relation to their roles in
society. Strategic gender needs on the other hand, refer to the
need to change the existing gender roles and to address equality
issues. Although cooperative organizations (and  governments)
have policies of equity and equal opportunity and express the
need to improve the status of women, special intervention is
often required to correct the existing imbalances in society and
to improve the status of women. A few examples of activities
which address strategic gender needs are:

  -   improving women's access to resources such as credit,  
      land and education and training;

  -   enhancing women's participation in cooperatives and their
      access to decision-making levels;

  -   ensuring that women are afforded equal treatment in
      regard to employment opportunities, promotion, wages etc.

4.      The Gender and Development Approach

The gender approach views gender relations and the inequitable
development process as the essential problem areas to be tackled.
(It differs from the Women in Development (WID) approach which
regarded women as the problem area and focused primarily on
women's integration in the development process).

The gender approach seeks to empower disadvantaged and vulnerable
groups - including women - and to transform unequal relations.
The ultimate goal is to attain equitable and sustainable
development with both men and women involved in decision-making


Gender and development:

The focus              is on the relations between men and women.

The problem            is the unequal relations of power between
                       men and  women on the same socio-economic
                       level. This results in the unequal
                       distribution of the benefits of
                       development and hinders women's full
                       participation in the development process.

The solution           is to empower the disadvantaged and women,
                       and to transform unequal relations.

The aim                is to attain equitable and sustainable
                       development with both men and women in
                       decision-making and leadership positions.

How?             -     enhance the democratization and de-
                       officialization process of cooperatives.
                 -     identify the (practical and strategic)
                       needs and interests of men and women which
                       can improve their condition.
                 -     enhance women's access resources including
                       credit and education and training
                       facilities etc.
                 -     involve women in decision-making.
                 -     enhance women's access to leadership
                       positions e.g through quotas or
                       "affirmative action", which
                       is action taken to correct the already
                       existing imbalances.


5.      Gender analysis and planning

The aim of gender analysis is to analyse the position of       
men and women in a society or community and to identify the
specific needs and strengths of each. This method is applied in
the planning, management, implementation and evaluation of
programmes in order to ensure the equal participation of men and
women according to their identified needs, special skills and
potentials. Cooperative policies and programmes can also be
adapted to the needs of the specific target group by applying
this method.

In gender analysis one must first identify the gender differences
in social and economic production systems which will be affected
by the cooperative activities. And secondly, analyse the
implications of these gender differences for the design and
implementation of the activities.

*       The division of labour between men and women

        Who is responsible for which tasks by gender and by age?
        Is time available to men and women for cooperative
        activities? Are there imbalances in women's and men's

*       Sources of income

        Are there imbalances in the remuneration for women's and
        men's labour? Are cooperative services available to and
        used by men and women?

*       Financial responsibilities in the household

        Who takes care of the household income and financial

*       Access to and control of resources by men and women

        What resources are required for the productive activities
        e.g. credit, land, training, labour? Who controls these
        resources and to what extent does this affect the ability
        to increase productivity?

*       Participation in the cooperatives

        What are the key differences between men and women's
        constraints to participation? (e.g. time, labour, access
        to credit, training etc.) What special strengths, skills
        or knowledge based on gender roles can be utilized to
        enhance economic productivity? (e.g. working in groups,
        marketing skills, indigenous knowledge)

6.      General information on the status of women

During the UN Decade for Women (1975-85) focus was directed on
women's issues and a favourable legal and institutional climate
for women was created. Many governments established special
offices for women's issues, and efforts were made to increase
women's representation in decision-making and to involve them as
key components in development policies. Since then progress has
been made in the promotion of equality issues in most countries
of the world but there is still often a discrepancy between
principle and practice, and many policy approaches still treat
women as a marginal minority group.

What is the status of women today? There have been some
improvements but generally the situation appears to have
deteriorated. On the one hand, there are more literate women
today than ten years ago and more women can be found in higher
positions in political and economic spheres of life. But, on the
other hand, according to a UN report many women are poorer than
ever before. The number of women living in poverty nearly doubled
over the past 20 years, and women today constitute at least 60
per cent of the world's 1 billion poor.1/  Studies also suggest
that a deterioration of the living conditions of women from low-
income sectors often results in violence, a breakdown of the
family and mental health disorders. A situation that affects not
only the family but the whole of society. 

Undoubtedly the most disconcerting development is the widening
gap between the North and South, the rich and poor and the rural
and urban populations. The conditions of the rural poor in
developing countries, have deteriorated drastically over the past
years, often due to structural adjustment programmes which have
increased the hardship of rural women in particular. Rural women
are the first to suffer from reductions in public sector services
such as education and health. 

In the field of education there are, however, signs of a positive
trend worldwide. There has been a decline in illiteracy amongst
women from 46.6 per cent in 1970 to 33.6 per cent in 1990, and
this trend looks like continuing according to UNESCO.2/  But,
nevertheless, girls and women still represent two thirds of the
world's illiterates. With regard to rural women, their access to
education and training facilities is much more limited than for
women in the urban areas.

Direct gender discrimination still exists and discriminatory
attitudes and practices are widespread. In many parts of the
world, girl children often deliberately receive less education,
less food and less health care than boys. According to the WHO,
one sixth of all female infant deaths in India, Pakistan and
Bangladesh were, for example, due to neglect and discrimination.

Table 1: Illiteracy rates (UNESCO) 

Illiteracy rates are falling for young women but are still much
higher for young women than for men. Over 40 per cent of young
women are still illiterate in Africa and Southern and Western

In the economic sphere inequality is also prevalent. Women today
represent 34 per cent of the workers in the formal labour sector
worldwide and, although the wage gap between men and women has
decreased, women still earn 30-40 per cent less than men for
comparable work and more women are still found in traditionally
low-paid jobs.3/ Most women, however, work in the informal
sector. The number of women in this insecure sector, unprotected
by unions or employment legislation, far exceeds that of men.

Another issue that affects women throughout the world is their
heavy workload. Due to the double burden of productive/economic
activities and family responsibilities, women work much longer
hours than men and do not have much time to spare for other
activities (such as participating in meetings or community and
training activities). In addition to this much of the work
carried out by women is unrecorded and undervalued, or not valued
at all since it often does not appear in a country's official
statistics. Furthermore, when national surveys are carried out
in the agricultural sector, they invariably underestimate the
agricultural work carried out by women. For example, the national
figures in Egypt showed that 3.6 per cent of the women were
involved in agricultural work whereas a local study showed that
between 35-50 per cent women were involved. In Peru the national
figures estimated 2.6 per cent women involvement and the local
figures estimated 86 per cent (FAO).

For women in poorer rural and urban areas in developing countries
the work load is particularly heavy. Women are often engaged in
activities such as subsistence crop production, family cash crop
production (planting and weeding and harvesting), market
gardening, or informal commerce, small-scale manufacturing etc.,
in addition to their household and family care responsibilities.
(See transparency 5A on Division of Labour in the Agriculture).

Women in many parts of the world are regarded as successful
traders and entrepreneurs. However small-scale enterprises are
difficult to establish and many women are hampered by lack of
access to credit and other resources such as training and
education. Traditional practices and customs can also often
impede women's entrepreneurial aptitudes and potentials. 

Poverty, low status and lack of participation and integration
into the mainstream have resulted in the marginalization of
women. To integrate women into the mainstream is not an easy
task, but the first step is to change attitudes and overcome the
existing resistance to the change in women's roles. Society must
recognize and value women's productive and reproductive roles and
their contribution to sustainable economic development.

There has been a growing awareness among governments, policy and
decision-makers in recent years that women are indeed important,
although under-utilized, contributors to economic growth and
development rather than just passive beneficiaries. There is also
a growing understanding of the fact that whatever happens to
women will have significant consequences for the well-being of
future generations in all parts of the world.


1/      UN Department of Public Information: Conference to Set
        Women's Agenda into Next Century, Background Information,
        DPI/1424 Rev. 1, (New York, October 1994).

2/      UNESCO, Compendium of Statistics on Illiteracy, 1990
        edition. No. 31 (Paris, 1990).

3/      UN: The World's Women 1970-1990: Trends and Statistics.
        Social Statistics and Indicators, Series K, No. 8.