Topic 2 - Women's Position in Society & Coops

   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

Topic 2.   Women's position in society in general and in
           cooperatives in particular. (Two steps. Total
           estimated duration: 30 minutes)


     Step One:  The status of women (15 minutes)

The trainer/moderator will find an overview of the status of
women in general in the Background Information, page 14. The
overview deals briefly with a few selected areas of common
concern for women such as poverty, education, employment and
equality issues. 

Women in many parts of the world have a very low status and are
often treated as second-class citizens. Some progress has,
however, been made in the last ten years since the UN Decade for
Women (1975-85). Nevertheless, the disparities that exist between
North and South, rural and urban, rich and poor, still give rise
to particular concern.

The trainer/moderator can introduce the topic in general terms
by giving an overview of the status of women, and then deal with
the main gender issues and concerns in the region. These issues
should be localized to the country or countries in question. For
example, land tenure issues will vary from country to country and
from region to region. However, in many countries in the
developing world, only men can hold legal land rights. Women, who
are increasingly becoming heads of households as a result of
migrant labour, economic and political upheavals and
environmental degradation, are not permitted to own land and this
restricts their access to loans and credit facilities for
agricultural improvement. (Approximately 20% of households
worldwide are female-headed and this figure is steadily
increasing. In rural areas of Africa and the Caribbean the
proportion is even higher).

The trainer/moderator can explain and display transparencies 5A
and 5B which illustrates two important issues mentioned in the
text regarding the agricultural sector, namely the division of
labour and the ownership of land. The example are taken from
rural Africa but are relevant to other rural areas in the
developing world. 

The trainer/moderator should also ask participants to comment on
the issues raised, which will also give participants time to
reflect over and digest some of the information presented. 

     Step Two:  Gender issues in cooperatives (15 minutes)

In this next step the trainer/moderator will give an overview of
women's position in cooperatives and identify gender-related
problems within the sector. The trainer/moderator must compile
the necessary gender-related data and information prior to the
session. A checklist is provided below to assist in the
collection of relevant information. If the trainer/moderator
still finds it difficult to collect sufficient, relevant data,
he/she can ask participants during the session to assess the
general situation in their particular cooperative organization
or sector.

The trainer/moderator can start by viewing women's low level of
participation in cooperatives from an historical perspective, and
then give an overview of the general areas of concern, as in (a)
and (b) below. The trainer/moderator can thereafter elaborate
where necessary according to the information that has been
collected prior to the session. The list of areas of concern is
also found on transparency 6, Gender Issues in Cooperatives.

(a)  Women's participation in cooperatives is generally low.
     Women are also conspicuously under-represented at decision-
     making levels. This low level of participation can be
     viewed from a historical perspective. In developing
     countries in Africa and Asia, cooperatives were often
     originally established by the colonial powers as a means of
     enhancing cash crop production and marketing. Since the men
     were involved in cash crop production whilst women tended
     the food crops, only the men became involved in the
     commercial sector. The women, although they contributed to
     the cash crop production in terms of labour, did not become
     cooperative members and became increasingly marginalized. 

     After independence, many governments in Africa and Asia
     retained their cooperative structures as tools for
     implementing national agricultural and marketing
     development policies. National cooperatives consequently
     lost their autonomy and became dependant on or controlled
     by governments. As most cooperatives were still primarily
     engaged in cash crop production - still the domain of men -
      the cooperative membership continued to be dominated by

     In Latin America the cooperatives were started around the
     turn of the century either by European immigrants who
     brought with them cooperative ideas and principles based on
     the socio-economic trends in Europe at the time, or by
     governments which introduced them as tools for development. 
     As women were marginalized in the economic sector, they did
     not become active members of cooperatives.

(b)  Areas of concern:

 -   Low level of participation in cooperative development and
     particularly that of women. Are efforts being made to
     increase the membership?

 -   The quality of participation in cooperatives. In what
     capacities do women participate, as members, staff, office
     bearers? Are women involved in decision making processes?

 -   Constraints to participation in cooperatives such as
     social, cultural, economic and political restrictions on
     women, their heavy workload, level of education, selection
     criteria for members etc. If these constraints exist, what
     is being done to address the situation?

 -   Lack of access to and control over resources such as
     credit, education, training, production inputs, marketing
     outlets, etc. Do men and women have equal access?

 -   Cooperative training and education programmes. Do these
     programmes address women's needs? Are efforts being made to
     involve more women, e.g. are meetings conveniently timed
     and are child care facilities available?

 -   Financial and social benefits. Is it advantageous for women
     to form cooperatives? Do cooperatives support women groups'
     income-generating activities?

 -   The possible existence of gender bias. Do gender-blind
     policies, practices and services exist within the
 -   Lack of strong cooperative support and commitment to gender
     issues. How are gender issues addressed? Are gender
     sensitization programmes carried out?


1.   General information

     Compile information on the cooperative organization or
     sector in question:

     -     Are women involved in this cooperative sector, and if
           so, in which way? (For example as members, as
           employees or helping their husbands who are registered
     -     What is the percentage of women involved in this
     -     What are the criteria for becoming a member, e.g.
           entrance fee, shares, ownership of land? If the
           latter, does this hinder women from becoming members?
     -     Are there any legal, traditional or customary
           constraints to women's participation in cooperatives?
     -     Do cooperatives respond to the needs of women?
     -     Do women organize themselves into women-only
     -     Do cooperatives support women groups' income-
           generating activities? Can women increase their income
           through cooperative activities?
     -     Is the cooperative sector supportive of equality
           issues? Is gender awareness training carried out?

2.   Position of women in cooperatives

In a mixed cooperative or cooperative sector, compare the
positions held by men and women:

     -     Do women participate in mainstream or marginal
           activities of the cooperative sector?
     -     What is the ratio of men and women on the board of
           directors or management committee? 
     -     How many women hold leadership or managerial positions
           compared to men? 
     -     What kind of jobs are usually held by the
           cooperative's female employees?
     -     In cases where the male and female members of staff
           carry out the same jobs, do they receive the same
           salaries and benefits?
     -     If there have been cut-backs in a particular
           cooperative sector, investigate which positions are
           the most vulnerable. What category of staff lose their
           jobs first?

3.   Access to resources:

     Do women have equal access to the following cooperative

     (a)   Training and education
     -     Women cannot assume leadership roles unless they have
           had access to education and training programmes. What
           percentage of women participate in cooperative
           education and training programmes? 
     -     Are women's needs and potentials considered when
           designing training programmes, or is the main focus on
           male cooperative members/employees?
     -     Are training programmes easily accessible to women?
           For example, does the training take place far from
           their homes? Are child care facilities available? Is
           the scheduled time convenient for women with regard to
           their other responsibilities?

     (b)   Extension services, technical expertise, modern
           technology, production inputs

     -     Experience has shown that female extension workers can
           communicate better with women than male extension
           workers. What is the ratio of female to male farmers?
           And what is the ratio of female to male extension
           workers in the community/country?
     -     Do women farmers have access to production inputs such
           as modern farm tools, machinery, fertilizers?
     -     Do single women (or female heads of households) have
           access to production inputs?

     (c)   Credit and loan facilities

     -     Do women experience problems in acquiring bank loans
           and credit? If so, why, and what can be done?

     (d)   Market outlets and transport facilities

     -     Do women have equal access to market outlets and
           transport facilities? Does this also apply to single
           women and women cooperatives?

4.   Participation of women in mixed rural cooperatives

     ("Participation" in the context of cooperatives, implies
     that members exercise their rights and obligations as
     cooperative members in carrying out their activities).

     -     Is joint membership or dual membership encouraged? 
     -     Do women have a right to vote if the cooperative
           membership is household-based?
     -     Is women's role in rural cooperatives/crop production
           fully recognized or valued? 
     -     Do women members attend committee meetings, join in
           discussions, exercise their voting rights?
     -     Are women members involved in decision-making?
     -     Do women participate in the economic affairs of the
           cooperative and monitor its progress?
     -     Is the language used at meetings understandable to all
           participants, or only those with some formal
     -     Are committee meetings and general assemblies etc.
           scheduled at times that are suitable for women and are
           facilities, such as child care facilities, made
     -     Is information about meetings to be held easily
           accessible to women? Is care taken to use the right
     -     Do women members participate in elections, and stand
           for election as office bearers?