Topic 3 - Gender Integration in Coops - Why Important, Benefits, How

   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 3.   Why is gender integration in cooperatives important
           and what are the benefits of promoting women's
           participation in cooperatives?
           What can be done to integrate women in cooperative
           development and to enhance their participation in
           decision-making processes?

           (Two steps. Total estimated duration: 30 minutes)


     Step One:  Why gender integration? And what are the benefits
                for cooperatives of promoting women's
                participation? (10 minutes)

Below the trainer/moderator will find various points listed which
he/she can use in preparing Step One of the session on why gender
integration is necessary and the benefits of promoting women's
enhanced participation. Alternatively, the trainer/moderator may
wish to organize "buzzing discussions" on the same topic,
getting, for example, the participants to suggest the benefits
for cooperatives (and for women) of promoting women's

(1)  Gender integration in cooperative development is essential

  -  Active, equitable participation of members, both men and
     women, is a necessity for sustainable cooperative
     development. Active participation in the cooperative
     context means that members are involved in all the
     functions of cooperatives including planning, decision-
     making, implementation and financial and management

  -  Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, mutual
     responsibility, equality and equity. They practice honesty,
     openness and social responsibility in all their
     activities./1/ In order to enhance the credibility of
     cooperatives as democratic people-based movements in the
     eyes of the public and cooperative members, the cooperative
     values must be respected and adhered to.

  -  Cooperative principles state that cooperatives are
     democratic organizations without gender discrimination. But
     can they be regarded as truly democratic if women members
     do not have equal access to decision-making levels? If
     women are under-represented or not represented at all in
     decision-making, they may find it difficult to accept the
     legitimacy of decisions taken which do not take their
     interests into consideration.

  -  Experience has shown that women in leadership positions are
     more likely to address gender issues and safeguard the
     interests of women. As the cooperative movement worldwide
     incorporates so many women (yet few in management
     positions), it is important that more women are integrated
     into the system.

(2)  Benefits of gender integration:

  -  Women represent fifty per cent of the world's human
     resources. By enhancing women's productive capabilities and
     developing their  capacities, cooperatives will benefit
     from this hitherto under-utilized human resource. Many
     women have special skills in, for instance, marketing and
     trading, while others have special knowledge and
     capabilities which have been unacknowledged.

     Cooperatives will become a stronger economic and more
     influential political force if more women (the invisible
     workforce) are actively involved. 

  -  Men and women often tackle and solve problems differently.
     In today's fast changing socio-economic and political
     climate the need for innovative thinking and creative ideas
     is becoming exceedingly important also for the cooperative
     sector. By involving more women in decision-shaping and
     decision-making within the cooperative movement, one will
     enhance the prospects of cooperatives, diversify activities
     and fortify the cooperative movement.

  -  In the case of agricultural cooperatives, the involvement
     of more women in economic activities would result in a more
     integrated production of food crop and cash crops. This
     would enhance food security and have a positive effect on
     the environment as monoculture causes soil erosion and

   - Involving more women in cooperatives will broaden the scope
     of cooperatives and improve their social role. Women's and
     men's priority areas often differ. Women are, for example,
     often more concerned with social development issues such as
     employment, health, the environment and children than men. 

   - Experiences have shown that initiatives taken by women in
     cooperatives have accelerated the progress and change of
     their socio-economic situation. The trainer/moderator can
     give examples here. Women's involvement in thrift and
     credit cooperatives in Africa have, for example, been
     particularly successful. In India the Self-Employed Women's
     Association (SEWA) is immensely successful and likewise the
     Grameen banks in Bangladesh.

Participants may wish to ask questions about some of the issues
raised in this section. The trainer/moderator may also ask for
feedback from participants before continuing with the next step
on how to enhance women's participation in cooperatives and

     Step Two:  What can be done to integrate women in
                cooperative development and to enhance their
                participation in decision-making processes? (20

In relation to this topic, a discussion on people's participation
in cooperatives in general may arise or be initiated by the
trainer/moderator. People's lack of motivation and low level of
participation in cooperatives may be regarded by participants as
the most pressing issue in the present day situation. The
trainer/moderator may also wish to evoke a discussion on why
women's participation in cooperatives is so low and particularly
in decision-making levels.

The trainer/moderator should stress the importance of democratic
participation in cooperatives; the fact that both men and women
should participate equally. The reason why special measures are
needed to ensure equal participation should also be emphasized.
Regarding strategies for the integration of women in cooperative
development and decision-making levels, the following points can
be mentioned:

-    The cooperative organization or sector must first include
     gender on the agenda. The formulation of gender-sensitive
     policies, strategies and plans is essential and these
     should be drawn up in a joint effort between women and men
     and not solely on men's terms.

-    Cooperatives should address equality issues and make a firm
     commitment in their mandate to correct imbalances where
     they exist. For example, cooperatives can state their
     intention to address the problems of women's access to
     credit, land, equipment, extension services etc., and/or to
     take positive measures to include more women in their
     training programmes, in decision-making and leadership

The trainer/moderator can also ask participants to suggest other
areas where action can be taken by cooperatives to enhance
women's participation and access to decision-making levels. Based
on the information given earlier regarding women's constraints
and areas of concern, the participants should be able to suggest
some of the following solutions - with some guidance from the
trainer/moderator (when necessary):

(1)  Through awareness creation, gender sensitization, education
     and lobbying cooperatives can help remove the obstacles to
     women's equal participation (e.g. membership criteria or
     legal, traditional, financial, attitudinal constraints).

(2)  Through training and education programmes which are
     sensitive to women needs, cooperatives can help strengthen
     women's capacities and capabilities, resulting in their
     increased self-confidence and enabling them to participate
     more fully in decision-making and assume leadership

(3)  Cooperatives can consult and involve women when decisions
     are being taken, particularly those regarding women or
     which are in women's interests.

(4)  Cooperatives can review their policies and plans
     periodically to ensure that they are gender-sensitive?
     Cooperatives can focus on gender in their action plans.

(5)  Cooperatives can establish "gender committees" or units
     whose tasks can for example be to identify gender-related
     problems; to ensure that gender awareness training
     programmes are carried out; to be responsible for gender
     analysis in programme planning etc. It should be noted here
     that by establishing a special unit or office for gender
     issues or programmes, one risks that the gender issue
     becomes a side-issue that has been taken care of and that
     women continue to be marginalized in mainstream activities.
     A gender unit must therefore be part of mainstream
     activities or have direct access to policy and decision-
     making levels. 

(6)  Cooperatives can use their national organizations and
     networks to collect gender disaggregated data and help
     identify different types of projects focused to women's
     needs which can help them increase their income-earning
     capacities and alleviate their work burden. For example,
     they can investigate how much time men and women spend on
     various chores and activities and how this fits in with
     potential and economically viable and sustainable
     cooperative activities.

To conclude the gender session, the trainer/moderator can
summarize the main aims of the session, and can also underline
that the session is basically meant as an introduction to gender
issues. The trainer/moderator can furthermore ask participants
if they think it has been necessary to dwell on gender, or
whether it is a concept that is generally understood and that one
instead should be strategizing on how to plan with gender. 

The aims of this gender sensitization session have been to make
people aware of the fact that: 
*    democratic participation in cooperatives means that both
     men and women should participate equally in cooperatives;

*    gender-related problems also exist in the cooperative

*    women are not a special marginalized interest group but
     represent half the world's population and contribute to
     socio-economic development;

*    both men's and women's needs and concerns must be addressed

*    both men and women should be afforded equal opportunities
     and treatment within the cooperative sector and should
     benefit equally from cooperative development;

*    both men and women should have equal access to decision-
     making levels and leadership positions; 

*    both men and women should share responsibilities and power
     in all spheres of life;

*    women face constraints in their access to and control over
     resources e.g. credit, training and education etc.

     (See also transparency 7)

1/   ICA: Statement on Cooperative Identity (draft), Geneva,