Women as Equal Partners in Third World Co-operative Development (1983)

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         July, 1996

Source :  Women as Equal Partners in Third World Co-operative
          Development - A Policy Statement of the ICA Women's
          Committee, ICA Geneva, 1983, 12 pages


                    Women as Equal Partners in
               Third World Co-operative Development

          A Policy Statement of the ICA Women's Committee

1.   Foreword

In presenting this Policy Statement, the Women's Committee
wishes to emphasize that it is not intended as a Development
policy for Women which is distinct or separate from the ICA's
Development Policy. The Committee wishes to draw attention to
the fact that some Development Policies in the past have
overlooked the needs of women and have thus had negative
results on their situation.

The Women's Committee is also aware that the situation of
women in co-operative varies from region to region and from
one country to another. Statements and lines of action should
be reviewed and adapted to take into account the conditions,
traditions and culture of each country.

The ICA's Women's Committee hopes that the situation of women
in co-operatives varies from region to region and from one
country to another. Statements and lines of action should be
reviewed and adapted to take into account the conditions,
traditions and culture of each country.

The ICA's Women's Committee hopes that the following ideas
will inspire policy actions and projects which will ensure
that women's interests, as well as those of men, are promoted.

It is urged that this Policy Statement, which was drawn up
after consultation with the Women's Officers in the ICA
Regional Offices, be read in conjunction with the ICA's Policy
for Co-operative Development. This was published in June 1983.

2.   Introduction

Setting the Background of Women in Co-operative Development
In this part of the paper, we focus the attention of those who
are involved in co-operative development to some of the
problems which currently hinder workers' `active
participation' in co-operatives.

As a pre-requisite of their active participation in co-operative development, they should be
able to participate in all areas of their co-operatives. Moreover, they should be fully
associated in the implementation of the development programmes which are designed for them.

Too often women are considered to be mere users of co-operative services, or passive
observers of programmes which may radically change their living conditions.

2.1  Prejudices
In most countries, there are formal and informal prejudices
about what women can and cannot do. These sometimes prevent
women from full participation in co-operative activities. They
may not be employed for certain tasks or allowed to attend and
speak at meetings where men are considered incapable of
handling money.

When planning co-operative development, we must be aware of
these obstacles and try to overcome those which are based on

2.2  Laws and Rules
Laws, and even co-operative rules and by-laws, sometimes
hinder women's membership in co-operative societies. For
example, membership in some agricultural co-operatives is
restricted to owners, tenants or usufructuaries of land and
these are invariably men and not women. But it is the women
who work the fields. Rules like these reflect the fact that
co-operative by-laws, copied from European countries, have not
been adapted to the conditions existing in specific developing

Religious rules and traditions may also impede women's
participation in co-operatives.

2.3  Heavy workload and lack of time
Rural women in developing countries often work long hours.
They may have a working day that starts at 5.00 in the morning
and finishes at 9.00 or 10.00 at night. They also have the
main responsibility for the well-being of the family. This
includes providing water and fuel, often carried long
distances and used for cooking, cleaning and washing. Women
also bring up the children and take care of old relatives.
They also help at weddings and funerals. Usually women grow
the food needed by their families, this means hard labour in
fields which are often situated far away from their villages.

Women in urban areas also often work long hours for low
salaries in factories, offices and domestic service far away
from their homes.

The working day for many women in developing countries leaves
little time for active participation in co-operative

2.4  Lack of means
Employed women are mostly found in the lower income groups.
Women working in the home have very limited possibilities to
earn money. Whatever financial means they have must first be
used for the family: e.g. school fees and materials, clothes
for the children. This lack of means limits the opportunities
women have of becoming members of co-operatives where
membership fees have to be paid. It also reduces their
opportunities for using co-operative services, buying seeds,
fertilizer, pesticides, farm tools, food and household items,
using credit and savings co-operatives, obtaining capital for
small investments to improve agricultural output or for
starting other income generating projects. Moreover, the
migration of men to the cities and to other countries often
means that women are left behind with inadequate resources for
themselves, their children and their parents.

2.5  Lack of influence
As a consequence of their not having representation on the
bodies where decisions are taken because of the obstacles
listed above, women have inadequate influence on co-operative

Because men and women live in different spheres of society and
have different views and experiences, it is important, for the
future of the co-operative movement, that these are taken into

2.6  Lack of training
Knowledge is necessary to enable people to take an active part
in the management of co-operatives. Women in developing
countries often lack the basic education which is necessary
for further training. Special training programmes should be
devised for illiterate persons - both men and women. Women
may, however, be prevented from participating in education and
training activities for other reasons such as not being
allowed to travel, stay overnight in hotels, or not being able
to leave children. These obstacles can be overcome if
programmes are carefully planned in order to suit the
situation of women.

Education and training will give women the knowledge and
skills they will require if they are to participate fully in
co-operative development at local, national, regional and
international levels.

3.   Basic Policy Premises for the Involvement of Women in Co-operative Development
Modern constitutions may provide for adult suffrage and
equality before the law but may have little immediate effect
on the substance of social relations, especially where social
stratification persists. The obvious example is the position
of women in many of the developing countries (and even in
countries claiming to be advanced). Women may be enfranchised
in the political sense, but suffer economic, educational and
other disabilities which condemn them to an all too passive
role in the progress of their nation towards modern standards
of welfare and enlightenment. `The Co-operative Movement can
become one of the instruments of women's liberation from
ignorance, poverty, drudgery and social inferiority'. It can
reinforce its own action by harnessing their energies and
idealism to its constructive efforts.
-W.P. Watkins at the ICA Congress, Bournemouth, 1963

What of the place and role of women in co-operatives?

-    Co-operatives in which the talents and capabilities of
     women are given full play will enjoy great advantages in
     the future.

-    In certain parts of the world, there is evidence that
     some types of the co-operatives, housing for example,
     make very rapid progress under the influence and
     leadership of women.

-    `Participation in all aspects of Co-operation should be
     on equal terms between women and men'. A special and
     separate role for women should be continued only where
     cultural and religious traditions dictate it.

-A.F. Laidlaw, at ICA Congress, Moscow, 1980.

3.1  Women in co-operative development - is there still a
It must be asked if in the 20 years since the ICA Congress at
Bournemouth, the co-operative movement has really become an
instrument for women's liberation from ignorance, poverty,
drudgery and social inferiority. Is their participation, in
all aspects of co-operation, really on equal terms with men?

The ICA document on development policy does provide for
participation on equal terms. Yet, because of `immemorial
social customs', as well as cultural and religious traditions,
women are still condemned too frequently to an all too passive
role in co-operative development. Therefore, while the ICA
adopts an overall policy, the Women's Committee considers that
it is its duty to call upon the co-operative development
policy makers and experts consider the consequences their
actions may have on women in development target groups.

Both the enormous literature and the comprehensive research
data which stemmed from the UN Decade for Women show the
harmful results which development projects can have on women's
situation if they are devised without due consideration to
their direct or indirect effects. `Women in the Third world
too often have to accept development processes that are
implemented by and oriented towards men.'

The question must be asked: Has the international co-operative
movement a better record to report? Have development projects
in the past been scrutinised from the point of view of women
as well as of men?

3.2  Towards"a more participative approach
The Women's Committee of the ICA strongly recommends that full
consideration be given in future development programmes to the
following basic statements.

3.2.1     Development is a process which must derive its form
          and content above all from the people themselves and
          `this applies to women as well as to men'.

          It is women in developing countries who should
          themselves decide the changes they want and the form
          that these should take. `This again, should be
          foremost in co-operative development policy.'

3.2.2     Support should be given to women's groups and
          organizations which are striving to promote women's
          economic independence and particularly those which
          give them a say in the development process }t local,
          national and international levels.

          In most developing countries, groups of women, often
          based on traditional economic association, are
          striving towards better living conditions. The
          Women's Committee feels that because such groups can
          express actual needs, they should be closely
          associated in the elaboration of development plans.
          `It recommends that these groups be identified and
          considered as bases for genuine co-operative

3.2.3     Channels of information and communication should be
          established between women in the developing
          countries. `This should be considered as an
          important aspect of development policy.'

          It has been observed that co-operatives in
          developing countries sometimes have better knowledge
          of co-operative achievements in industrialised
          countries than they do of those in other developing
          countries. Such a situation tends to erroneously
          imply that there is a single model for co-operative

          The Women's Committee suggests that ICA Regional
          Offices should be asked to facilitate exchanges of
          information and experience. Such exchanges have been
          started for men. They should now be extended to
          women; `though the Women's Committee looks for
          integration of both men and women in co-operative
          activities, it believes that specific dispositions
          may temporarily be needed for women.'

3.2.4     `Plans for any co-operative project should first be
          scrutinised to determine how they are likely to
          affect women's work and how they can strengthen
          their economic and social positions.'

          The Women's Committee proposes to establish a set of
          criteria by which co-operative development projects
          should be scrutinised before they are implemented.
          It would still be important, however, to have some
          kind of objective as a means of assessing actual
          results after the completion of a project.

          `The Women's Committee believes that these criteria
          should be applied to all projects and not only to
          those specifically intended for women'

          `Resources should be made available in development
          budgets to check whether the participation of women
          and men in co-operative development has been on
          equal terms'.

4.   Fields for Application of the Policy Premises for Women
     in Co-operative Development

There are aspects of the ICA's Development Policy which,
because they are of direct interest to women, the Women's
Committee wishes to emphasize.

4.1  Food and agriculture
A.F. Laidlaw appealed for co-operatives to feed the world's
hungry. In support of the ICA's Policy Statement, the Women's
Committee wishes to emphasize that women in most developing
countries, still bear the main responsibility for producing
food for their families. Yet they have few means to increase
production or for lightening their work with good land,
agricultural extension, new seeds, fertilisers, appropriate
tools and animal driven equipment.

Frequently they also lack information about what is produced
by other women's groups, or for what kind of production there
is a local market. They may continue to produce foods for
which there no longer is a market. Women may also lack
adequate information about the better use of water, fuel, and
local food products.

4.2  Employment and industry
Underlining the ICA's Policy Paper, the Women's Committee
wishes to emphasize women's need for income generating
activities so as to better their economic positions.

Too often women constitute an easy source of cheap labour for
routine work, because they lack knowledge and opportunity to
rise above the lowest paid jobs. The democratic structures of
co-operatives allow women to move into more flexible and
creative work. But a problem is that when organized in the
form of handicraft co-operatives, women usually keep to
traditional productions for which there may be narrow-market

`The international co-operative movement, by providing
information, training and contact with new markets, could help
to find satisfactory solutions.'

It is likely that new technologies will be increasingly
introduced. Where this happens, co-operative development
experts should take care to ensure that women can use new
tools. They may be able to do so if the new tools are some how
related to the traditional tools and methods which women have

4.3  Savings and Credit
The Women's Committee fully subscribes to the ICA Policy Paper
on this question. Yet, it wishes to draw attention to the fact
that in some African countries, a woman cannot obtain a loan
unless her husband guarantees it, even though she can provide
the necessary security.

But traditionally, women may gather in small saving groups for
family projects. The Women's Committee suggests that where
they do, these practices should be analyzed so as to ensure
that the introduction of more elaborate schemes does not
damage existing activities.

It should be born in mind that credit facilities in the
developing countries tend to be more frequently used by civil
servants, than by the farmers. Frequently women are deprived
of the benefit of their savings.

4.4  Training and Education
The necessity for appropriate training and education for women
can be readily seen. The ICA policy paper emphasizes the
importance of co-operative education and training programmes
for members and committee members at field level.

The Women's Committee, however, wishes to emphasize the
importance of adopting educational methods which maintain and
strengthen solidarity between women. Training should be
related to activities which are performed by women on the
basis of what they are, what they know and the objective of
their newly acquired knowledge.

5.   Conclusions

This Policy Document seeks a new approach for women in co-operative development. In
Third-World countries, they must be allowed to influence their own development in the
co-operative field.

To ensure that women participate at all stages of development
projects, the Women's Committee recommends that the ICA adopts
a checklist of basic criteria. This should be applied to any
development project to see how it affects the position of

In addition, the Women's Committee recommends the following:

5.1  Because conditions, customs and traditions vary from
     country to country, and even from one part of a country
     to another, a thorough study of local conditions should
     be carried out when planning all co-operative development

5.2  A study of laws and by-laws for co-operative societies
     should be carried out to determine whether these prevent
     women's full membership in co-operative societies thus
     limiting their means of influencing co-operative
     development. The study should also suggest ways of
     removing or offsetting these obstacles.

5.3  In agricultural co-operative development programmes,
     emphasis should be laid on the improvement of food crops.
     Better seeds, tools and other implements for the food
     production are needed to improve the standard of
     nutrition in the family. They would also lighten women's
     workload and enable them to spend more time on education,
     training and co-operative activities.

5.4  Many donor agencies have special funds for women's
     projects. These funds should be utilized for projects for
     women in the co-operative sector.

5.5  A model on how to write applications by women for
     development aid and how to involve governmental
     institutions, etc. should be issued as a guide by the ICA

5.6  The ICA Secretariat, the Regional offices and the
     Auxiliary committees are resources which should be used
     to further the development of co-operatives and to
     improve the role of women within them. Men and women must
     be allowed equal opportunities in co-operatives.

          Women and Co-operative Development : A Checklist

Checklist of basic criteria for the scrutiny of proposals for
co-operative technical assistance projects to see how these
will affect the position of women.

All project proposals should, of course, be scrutinised before
approval on points such as:

-    which is the target group?
-    what are the problems of the target group?
-    to what degree will these problems be solved by technical
-    will the members of the target group be involved in the
     planning and the implementation of the project?

To find out the consequences that project activities will have
on women in the target group, it is necessary to look at
particular points. For example, it is particularly important
to ensure that a project does not have any negative effects on
the situation of women or more positively, that their position
will be improved so that the gap between men and women is

`We Must'

a)   ensure that the role of women is duly recognized;

b)   determine what positive or negative consequences a
     proposed project might have for women in the target
     group, and try to find ways to offset negative

In order to do this, it is necessary to know what role women
play in the community. What are their responsibilities and
which decisions they may influences. A list of the
distribution of tasks between men, women and children will be
helpful in this connection.

The following points should also be considered when checking
project proposals:

i)   -    How do the project activities affect the economic
          situation of women?
     -    Will their role in the family economy deteriorate?
          (This can happen for example when cash crops are
          introduced, since usually men work with cash crops
          and control the cash received. Projects may result
          in women losing a source of income).
     -    Will their position in the family economy improve?
          (This can be the case if women can take advantage of
          a new source of income through project activities).
     -    What kinds of measures are taken to offset negative
          effects, if any?

ii)  -    How will the project affect the social position of
          women in the community?
     -    Will it be improved? (e.g. by making sure that women
          are given full information about project objectives
          and activities to enable them to give their views;
          or by alleviating their workload to give them more
          time for participation in community affairs,
          education and training activities).
     -    Will it be aggravated? (e.g. by traditional women's
          tasks being transferred to men through introduction
          of new technology; or by taking away
          responsibilities which women previously had).

iii) -    How does the project affect the women's workload?

     -    Will it be lightened? (e.g. by providing better
          access to clean water, fuel; better tools and inputs
          for working in the fields; utensils and tools to
          facilitate household work and income generating
     -    Will it be made heavier? (e.g. by adding new tasks
          or by forcing the women to cultivate fields for food
          production further away from their homes; by  making
          them carry water, fuel and food longer distances;
          perhaps adding to their responsibilities because men
          will be engaged elsewhere).

iv)  -    Will the proposed project have any impact on the
          food intake or health?
     -    Will women continue only to have access to less
          nutritional food, or smaller quantities of food?
          (Cash crop introduction or better marketing
          facilities may have such effects, as then products
          may be sold instead of consumed by the family, and
          the cash received is mostly kept by the men and not
          spent for the family's consumption).
     -    Will women through project activities be able to
          improve health prospects? (e.g. through better
          knowledge on nutrition and how to make better use of
          available food items, or even access to more
          nutritious food).

v)   -    How will women be involved in the project
     -    in what capacity and at what level? (e.g. how will
          women be able to influence the planning and
          implementation of the project? Will they be present
          in decision making bodies?_.

vi)  -    Will women be able to participate in the project
          activities on equal terms with men?
     -    (Do religion, education, tradition, social
          structures prevent full participation of women in
          the area? Are they allowed to work outside their
          homes; to meet other men than near relatives; are
          they subjected to sex taboos, e.g. tasks women are
          not allowed to do or tasks only women are allowed to

vii) -    How is the choice of technology made?
     -    (What role have the women in the target group had in
          deciding this? How will the technical devices affect
          the possibilities for women to participate? Do
          traditional roles prevent women from using these
          tools? Does the economic situation prevent women
          from obtaining the tools?).

viii)-    What measures have been taken to ensure that women
          are able to participate fully in the education,
          training and extension activities defined in the

          (e.g. will place and time for meetings be suitable?
          Are adequate accommodation, travel and babysitting
          facilities provided? Will specific dispositions
          compensate for illiteracy or lack of other basic

ix)  -    Will the education programmes in the project give
          women the knowledge they need to ensure them access
          to the whole co-operative structure?
          (e.g. will they be able to compete on equal terms
          with men for positions in societies and unions? Will
          the education programmes allow women to acquire the
          know-how needed to use the new technology, to do
          accounting work, etc.>).

x)   -    Will the project staff (expatriate and local) be in
          a position to work with women in the target group?

     -    Will women be employed in the project? In what
          (Women officers may be necessary if the women in the
          target group are to be allowed to participate).