Report from the Global Women's Committee (1997)

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This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
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Dec., 1997
(Source: ICA Review, Vol.90 No.4, 1997, pp.41-43)

Report from the Global Women's Committee 
by Katarina Apelqvist*
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This is my final report from the ICA Global Womenęs Committee. A
few days ago my responsibilities as chairwoman were taken over by
Britten Lagerqvist Transtromer after seven years.

The Committeeęs work over the last year was described in the Annual
Report so I will limit my comments to committee activities since the report
was published.

In June this year the Womenęs Committee Executive held its meeting in St.
Petersburg, Russia and, as usual, we initiated a womenęs conference to take
place in conjunction with the meeting.

More than 100 Russian women co-operators representing most Russian
regions attended. The theme was "Co-operatives and Market Economy,
Womenęs Contributions and Perspectives".

During the conference it was made clear that without the catalysing force
of the Womenęs Committee those women would not have had a chance to
meet.

In fact , without the Global Womenęs Committee there wouldn't be
opportunities for women co-operators from different regions and countries
to meet and exchange ideas and experiences for the benefit of co-operatives.

At the womenęs conference in St Petersburg a resolution was passed where
one of the demands made on the entire Russian Co-operative Movement
was that they should legislate for the inclusion of more women in governing
and control bodies.

Two days ago the Committee held a conference here in Geneva. The theme
was  "Women, Co-operatives and the Community". It was inspired by the
forthcoming seminar within the framework of the General Assembly  "The
Global dimension of Co-operatives". In the Committee we felt the need to
collect fresh information about the situations, experiences, needs and
achievements of women at the level where most women are still found,
that is at the grassroots and community level, or the micro-level if you like.
We anticipated that the focus at the Assembly seminar would be more on
the macro-level, the national and global levels, where men are still in power.

We had four very qualified women keynote speakers: Frances Kinnon,
Assistant Secretary General of the International Federation of Agricultural
Producers; Professor Lanyan Chen, University of Victoria, Canada; A.
Pappathiamah, Board member of the Asian Women Co-operative
Development Forum and Margita Lukkarinen, Co-operative Womenęs
House, Finland. There were also reports from several countries and a
general discussion.

The conclusion from the conference is that in many countries - from China,
Japan and Russia in the East to Scandinavia in the North over Benin in the
South and Brasil in the West - women have taken the lead as local
entrepreneurs, thus creating jobs and income, maintaining existing
infrastructure and services, or/and creating new services in the community.

Very many of these women have already chosen the co-operative way,
team working with other women, and with men. But there are also
hundreds of thousands of women who are ignorant of the co-operative way of 
enterprising. They have formed partnerships with each other to meet
needs and solve problems and they are now at a crossroads. They are open
to information about and training by the co-operative movement, but they
are also open to the tunes of profit-oriented private enterprising. The
Co-operative movement needs to take decisions and actions urgently to
help them to choose the co-operative road!

We further concluded that the gap between the local level and the global
level is devastatingly wide and that the existent marginalisation of women
is unacceptable. Both womenęs and menęs perspectives are desperately
needed at all levels when plans and decisions are made. 

I now want to tell you some of my experiences during the last 12 years with
the Womenęs Committee.

These years have been filled with insight into co-operation in different parts
of the globe. There have been many stimulating meetings and discussions
primarily with women co-operators. In this communication process with
women, in different cultural surroundings, it has been confirmed that
womenęs practical reason and "tacit-knowledge" are of decisive importance
to future co-operative development. These meetings and discussions have
filled me with inspiration and joy.
  
But they have also been years of stubborn work and grinding frustrations.
The most painful revelation has been that there is still contempt for women,
their intelligence and abilities, within the Co-operative Movement. It has
also been very hard to experience the hypocrisy which advocates equality
for women through co-operation to the outside world whilst disrespecting
them inside the world of co-operation. 

I am happy to be able to say though, that these very last years I have met
some male cooperators whose gender awareness and sincerity I firmly
believe in. They could, as active supporters to women and gender
integration, become role models for all men in the co-operative movement.

In Conclusion:
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Let me give you some examples of what needs to be done next.

To you male co-operators, you have talked a lot about positive change.
To make it happen you must do three things:

1.	Change your dominant behavior and hierarchical way of
	working!

2. 	Actively support women to achieve democratic partnership with
	them!

3.	When you have done one and two - Confront any male co-operators
	who do not follow your example!

And to all you female co-operators, including members of the Womenęs
Committees, if you want to achieve positive change you must do three
things:

1.	Share and use the information and skills you already have!

2.	Develop further female and male contacts inside and outside
	co-operation - Use the contacts and what you learn!

3.	Support women and male allies - Keep pushing for democratic
	partnership with men!

By working together, we, women and men, can make the co-operative
movement truly democratic and progressive!

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* Ms. Apelqvist, Chairperson, submits her last report on behalf of the
Global Women's Committee.