ICA Policy on Women in Co-op Development (1993)



                                                  March 1993

     Co-operatives are based on the idea of democracy and the
     full participation of each member without regard to gender
     and other arbitrary forms of discrimination.  Despite this
     fact, women have been prevented from full participation in
     the co-operative development process due to discriminatory
     legislation, traditional economic dependence and prejudice.

Policy Background

One of the primary objectives of the ICA is to act as a catalyst
for co-operative development in all parts of the world.  Both the
ICA Policy for Co-operative Development and the ICA Policy on
Human Resource Development (HRD) were formulated in order to
outline strategies to guide activities in the areas of co-
operative development.  Although women have been included within
these policies, follow-up in terms of strategies and programmes
has been inconsistent.

The participation of women in co-operatives has been a concern
of the ICA since 1895.  The Women's Co-operative Guild which
later gave rise to the ICA Women's Committee, was and continues
to be active in promoting women's full participation in co-
operatives.  However, in the absence of a clear ICA Global policy
providing guidelines for the formulation of viable strategies for
women, existing programmes have not been able to sufficiently
focus on women.

Cognizant of the fact that previous efforts to promote women's
role in co-operatives have produced inadequate results, the ICA
has formulated this global Policy on Women in Co-operative

Development Objectives

The aim of the ICA Policy on Women in Co-operative Development
is twofold:

(a)  to assure the effective participation and full integration
     of women in co-operative development at all levels, and 

(b)  to contribute to the effective implementation of the ICA
     Policy for Co-operative Development in accordance with the
     ICA Policy on HRD in Co-operatives in the Third World.

The ICA Policy for Co-operative Development emphasizes the
establishment and growth of independent, democratic and viable
co-operative organizations, in which men and women participate
on equal terms.  These co-operative organizations must be capable
of serving their members efficiently and contributing to economic
and social equity in their respective communities and countries.

The ICA Policy on HRD in Co-operatives emphasises the need for
intensified education and mobilization programmes for members,
particularly for women, who to a great extent have been
overlooked but are essential to the overall success and
development of the co-operative movement.

Target Groups

Broad participation through the mobilization of the total human
potential for development is a prerequisite for the achievement
of our policy objective.  It is therefore essential that the
following institutions and groupings be involved in this process:

1.   States and Policy-makers

In many parts of the world, especially in developing countries
characterized by economic stagnation and negative growth,
continued population increase, heavy debt burden and adjustment
programmes with subsequent reduction of public expenditures for
social programmes, the situation of women has deteriorated.  In
order for women's rights to be guaranteed, it is essential that:

*    women's needs, skills and resources be acknowledged, 

*    constitutions, laws and civic and labour codes be revised
     in order to eliminate the legal basis for discrimination,

*    legal protection be provided for women's access to land
     ownership, credit, basic education, training, health,
     child-care facilities and other social services that are
     necessary for the full integration of women into the
     development process.

2.   Development Agencies

Development agencies have for decades primarily targeted men in
their projects which have been for the most part designed by men.

It is therefore essential that:

*    gender planning methods be applied which take into account
     the different needs and roles of women in society, 

*    it be recognized that by ignoring women's key role in
     economic development, the potential for development is
     seriously undermined, 

*    loan programmes be initiated.

3.   Financial Institutions

Restrictions in access to credit limit the productive
contribution of women.  Factors that inhibit women's demands are
transaction costs, collateral requirements, cumbersome
application procedures and cultural constraints.  

It is therefore essential that:

*    reforms of financial markets, development of loan
     programmes, intermediary institutions, advisory services
     and legal reforms be initiated to facilitate women's access
     to finance, 

*    promotion of thrift and credit co-operatives, which have a
     proven record of involving women, be encouraged.

4.   Training Institutions

Women's co-operatives have often lacked business skills and
administrative capacity due to the inadequate provision of
education and training for women.  It is therefore essential

*    provision be made for specialized education and training
     programmes for women, aimed at developing their financial,
     technical and managerial skills, and

*    financial support such education and training be provided.

5.   Women's Groupings

To boost women's participation, it is essential that women's
groups and individuals:

*    build informal or support networks for women, 

*    introduce, if necessary, special measures to increase the
     proportion of women involved in decision-making, 

*    encourage women to fully exercise their rights, 

*    maintain rosters of qualified women.

6.   Members, Committee Members, Co-operative Leaders and Staff

Co-operatives in which the talents and capabilities of women are
given full play will enjoy great advantages in the future.  It
is therefore essential that gender awareness be promoted, so

*    women be enabled to occupy positions in a complete sense as
     members and managers,

*    women be promoted to decision-making positions at every


In order to translate the policy aims into affirmative action,
the ICA will address issues that highlight the close linkage
between gender issues and development, e.g.:

(a)  gender analysis/awareness and sensitization,
(b)  revision of existing policies and strategies for co-
     operative development
(c)  education and training programmes/capacity building, 
(d)  networking,
(e)  policy dialogue,
(f)  research,
(g)  resource mobilization,
(h)  information, 
(i)  advisory services,
(j)  establishment of mechanisms to implement gender policies.

Role of the ICA

The ICA will:

(a)  promote women's role within the co-operative movement and
     co-operative projects, (the advantages and disadvantages of
     women only versus mixed co-operatives should be determined
     on a case-by-case basis),

(b)  be a catalyst and coordinator of gender programmes and
     mobilize / identify donor support,

(c)  promote women's/gender committees, or gender issues within
     the framework of HRD committees, 

(d)  promote and influence action and discussion on gender
     issues in international, national and regional fora, 

(e)  assist member organizations and training institutions in
     formulating policies, strategies and programmes designed to
     promote the role of women in co-operatives.

Regional Policies

The priorities for gender programmes would differ from region to
region.  Hence, it is suggested that the various regional offices
should formulate priorities, strategies and policies for their
gender programmes in consultation with regional bodies.


The ICA Board calls upon the member organizations to implement
the gender policy with vigour and requests the development
partners to support the efforts of the ICA and its regional
offices in this direction.  A concerted effort of this nature is
enjoined on all engaged in co-operative development programmes
for preparing the co-operatives to enter the 21st century with
renewed confidence and strength.