Contribution of Co-ops to the Advancement of Women (Note 5)

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   This document has been made available in electronic format
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                                  Background Information Note 5

         THE INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT AND 
            THE WORLD SUMMIT FOR SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT  


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          CONTRIBUTION OF THE CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT
                TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN 
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    RECOGNITION BY THE UNITED NATIONS OF THE RELEVANCE OF
    CO-OPERATIVE ENTERPRISES AND THE CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT

In his latest report to the General Assembly on co-operatives
(document A/49/213 of 1 July 1994), the Secretary-General pointed
out that "women continued to find membership in co-operative
enterprises a most effective means to achieve economic
empowerment, to engage in entrepreneurial activities and in 
employment, and, of great importance, to retain the benefits 
thereof. Not least important was the protection afforded to their
assets by their formal association within a co-operative".

In its resolution 49/155, the General Assembly recognized the 
important contribution and potential of co-operatives to the 
preparations and follow-up of not only the World Summit but also 
the Fourth World Conference on Women. It invited both fora to 
formulate "respective strategies and actions, to give due
consideration to the role and contribution of co-operatives".  

In its Declaration, the Summit commits itself to utilizing and 
developing fully the potential and contribution of co-operatives 
for attaining social development goals. The Programme of Action 
proposes strengthening co-operation among co-operatives and other
public and private organizations with the aim of mobilizing local
savings, promoting the creation of local financial networks, and 
increasing the availability of credit and market information,
with particular efforts to ensure availability of such services
to women. It further proposes strengthening organizations of 
community-based and workers' co-operatives, especially those run 
by women.  

        CO-OPERATIVES CONTRIBUTE TO WOMEN'S ACHIEVING 
                 FULL EQUALITY WITH MEN  

The following are observations based on issues identified in the 
Draft Platform for Action contained in the Annex to resolution 
38/10 of the Commission on the Status of Women.  

* ENABLE WOMEN TO OVERCOME POVERTY 
Co-operatives of many types help women members and employees to
overcome poverty by providing secure employment in acceptable
conditions. For example co-operatives often adopt flexible labour
practices which facilitate women's re-entry into the labour
force. They also provide access to secure savings, as well as
insurance and credit at non-exploitive terms; and they lobby for
women's economic rights. Savings and credit co-operatives and
co-operative banks have introduced gender-sensitive services.
Insurance co-operatives have introduced services better suited
to women's needs in difficult situations, such as divorce,
widowhood, unemployment, single mothers and women headed
households, as well as their often disadvantaged legal status. 
Housing, health, child-care, credit and savings and retail
co-operatives are particularly sensitive to the needs of poor
women.  

* ENSURE WOMEN'S ACCESS TO QUALITY EDUCATION AND TRAINING   
The principle of education and training for members is one of the
precepts of the international co-operative movement as well as
a precondition for the empowerment of women. Co-operatives not
only provide management training, but many provide literacy,
numeracy and vocational adult education. Special attention is
being given to improving the educational status of women members
and employees. Management and technical training for women
employees is well developed, particularly in insurance, banking
and credit and savings co-operatives. Child-care, pre-school and
school co-operatives also offer quality education with strong
emphasis upon equal opportunity for girls.  

Co-operatives also facilitate greater involvement of girls and 
women in education, by helping to reduce the burden of household 
work and by making available income which they can control 
independently of men. This increased income is generally used to 
cover family needs including the education of girl children.  

* INCREASE WOMEN'S FULL ACCESS TO APPROPRIATE, AFFORDABLE 
  AND QUALITY HEALTH CARE  
Many consumer co-operatives, of which women make up a high
proportion of members and employees, give attention to
health-care issues specific to women. They stress nutritionally
appropriate goods and safe household equipment. Co-operative
insurance enterprises take considerable interest in measures that
allow women to take action to improve their own health. In
developing countries, co-operatives of varying type have applied
surplus earnings to create community health services or provide
for access to nearby health services. Health co-operatives
worldwide offer women access to quality health services at
affordable prices.   

Co-operatives are concerned with occupational health issues, 
including those of their women members and employees. Women 
members of consumer co-operatives have exercised a major
influence  upon the adjustment of business policies, insisting
upon environmentally-friendly products, operations, and consumer 
education. Supply of utilities, housing and numerous community 
services by co-operatives has created healthier local 
environments. By means of co-operative literacy and education 
programmes women have been given access to information on 
nutrition, health, family planning, child-care and intra-family 
relations.  

* ELIMINATE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN  
Co-operatives constitute a fora within which peer pressure can
be brought to bear on recalcitrant behaviour. By providing
productive and secure employment in conditions of dignity and
equality, co-operatives play an important part in and empowering
women and reducing the financial stress which contributes to
violence against women. Co-operative insurance, banking and
savings and credit co-operatives provide a secure means whereby
women may establish financial autonomy, allowing them
alternatives to remaining subject to violence. Child care
co-operatives stress parent participation and establish learning
environments where respect between parents is a basic value and
where attitudes leading to violence are examined and avoided.
Housing co-operatives have initiated programmes to tackle
domestic violence, health co-operatives cater for the counselling
and rehabilitation of women victims, and service and care
co-operatives provide them with shelter.    

* PROMOTE WOMEN'S ECONOMIC SELF-RELIANCE  
Co-operative  enterprises are a significant means whereby groups
of women are able to pool their resources in order to protect
their assets and enhance opportunities for viable economic
activity. It is common that women are member-owners or employees,
together with men, in mixed membership co-operative enterprises.
Association with co-operatives has provided many women with
opportunities that would not otherwise exist, a measure of
empowerment, and a degree of economic security.  

Co-operatives constitute a form of enterprise which is
particularly well adopted to women, who often lack access to 
productive resources. Unemployed women found economic security
by  establishing or joining producer or labour co-operatives.  

* PROMOTE THE FULL AND EQUAL PARTICIPATION OF WOMEN IN 
  POWER STRUCTURES AND DECISION-MAKING  
The procedures whereby members  exercise control over their
co-operative enterprises are  democratic. Participation involves
gaining experience in  decision-making: co-operatives are often
termed "schools for democracy". Much attention is given to
improving women's full access to positions of power.
Co-operatives offer a channel for  gaining experience and for
upward-mobility in the power structure of the movement itself. 

Moreover, even in hostile environments  progress in co-operatives
has been greater than in other enterprises. Experience gained
within the co-operative movement has enhanced many women's access
to power structures outside it by providing marketable skills and
increased confidence. Many women have entered political life
through the co-operative movement, which supports, and provide
an economically secure base for, women's participation in
political life. Co-operative media also provide a substantial
amount of information on the experience of women
members/employees in all areas of life and keeps women informed
on political issues.  

* INTEGRATE GENDER-EQUALITY DIMENSIONS INTO POLICY 
  AND PROGRAMME PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION AT ALL LEVELS 
  AND IN ALL AREAS  
Non-discrimination on the basis of gender is part of basic
co-operative principles. Efforts have intensified to apply  these
principles as seen by strategies to increase women's membership
and ensure that business activities are promote women's 
equality. 

* PROMOTE AND SAFEGUARD THE FULL AND EQUAL ENJOYMENT BY 
  WOMEN OF ALL HUMAN RIGHTS  

Co-operative principles include full equality between women and
men.  Contributions are made to women's legal literacy. Through
its communications systems and attention to adult education the
movement promotes women's rights. Credit unions, co-operative
banks and insurance enterprises make possible women's access to
capital and property rights.

* PROMOTE AWARENESS OF EQUALITY BETWEEN WOMEN AND MEN EFFECTIVELY

Certain news agencies are themselves co-operatives - such as
Inter-Press and Associated Press. They ensure that women's 
issues are given appropriate coverage by network users and that 
reporting presents a positive image of women's contribution to 
society. All co-operative movements have their own communications
systems, used to increase support for women's issues. These are
of particular significance given that members of co-operatives
number about 800,000,000 throughout the world, and, with
household members, include 3,100,000,000 individuals over half
of the world's population.     


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This Note has been prepared for the information of participants
at the World Summit jointly by the International Co-operative 
Alliance and the United Nations Department for Policy Co-
ordination and Sustainable Development.  For further information
contact the ICA at 15, Route des Morillons, 1218 Grand Saconnex,
Geneva, Switzerland. Tel: +41 22 929 8888, Fax: 798 4122, E-mail:
icageneva@gn.apc.org.
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                                                    March, 1995