Gender Perspective of ICA Europe Reports

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         June 1995

          Gender Perspective of ICA Europe Reports

                    by Raija Itkonen*


The ICA European Region decided to review the reports on the
issues of its work programme from a gender perspective. The
first Regional Assembly held in Prague in October 1994
nominated a task force comprising Raija Itkonen, ICA Europe
gender issues coordinator, Moira Lees, Assistant  Secretary,
CWS, UK, and Coordinator of Corporate Governance Project, and
Mary Treacy, ICA Communications Director, to do the
reviewing.The review covers East-West relations, Corporate
Governance, North-South issues, Co-operative Communications
and Co-operative Schools. 

What is Gender?

Gender, like class and ethnicity, is a source of inequality.
Gender inequality is also a universal phenomenon. In most
countries socio-cultural constraints discriminate against
women, making them disadvantaged in their societies.
Therefore, the  common thinking in co-operatives as in other
contexts follows the trend that the concept of gender relates
only to women, who are the problem and who should also find
solutions to it, as evidenced by the composition of the task
force. But  gender is a cultural construct of sex roles.The
difference between sex and gender is that sex refers to the
attributes of women and men which originate from their
biological differences, while gender refers to the distinctive
qualities of women and men that are culturally created. Thus
these differences are not inherent or a fact of nature.

Gender Equality

The objective of gender equality is to provide women and men
with equal opportunities in every field. This means combating
traditional stereotyped roles at home, in culture, politics
and economy. An invisible gender  pattern  dominates all
aspects of life: culture, language, employment, social
relations, etc. Therefore, a wide variety of instruments are
needed to eliminate this pattern. Gender inequality is
sustained by assigning care work and domestic labour almost
exclusively to women and by low value on women`s work in
general. In most countries women are working-citizens and
care-citizens but not full citizens in the economy and power
structures. Without major restructuring of the division and
value of work,  the gender hierarchy will not change. Gender
equality is for women and men. Humanity needs a society which
recognizes both equality and difference. Women and men are
different.  Although this is a scientific fact, difference is
not the opposite of equality, nor does difference deny
equality. Equality will be achieved only when the work,
experiences, knowledge and values of women and men have equal
esteem and influence in society.

Development Trends

There are great differences in economic, social and cultural
conditions worldwide, but the common factor is women`s
secondary position compared with men - despite the fact that
women constitute more than half of the world's population. 
But today there is a growing agreement that equal
opportunities for men and women are needed to release all
human resources and thereby the achievement of sustainable
human development. More and more development agencies and NGOs
are also targeting women with their programmes as experience
has shown that in doing so their programmes have more impact
due to the fact that, if women are recipients and are given
the means of upgrading their status, it will benefit the whole
of society.

Many  global conferences like the International Conference on
Population and Development in Cairo in Autumn 1994, the World
Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen in March 1995, The
Fourth Conference on Women in Beijing in  Autumn 1995 and the
Second UN Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II) in
Istanbul in 1996  focus on gender equality as a prerequisite
for achieving better overall security. It is obvious that
these conferences will put very much pressure on the
implementation of shared power and shared responsibility
between genders as cornerstones of sustainable structural
change and development. 

Co-operative Identitity

The forthcoming Centenary of the ICA in Manchester in
September 1995 will consider a Statement on Co-operative
Identity, including a definition of co-operatives, a listing
of the Movement's key values, and a revised set of principles
intended to guide co-operative organisations to meet the
challenges of the twenty-first century. The European gender
review is timely in view of the Manchester Meetings because
advancing gender equality and equity, and mainstreaming women
in co-operative policies are prerequisites for the future
credibility of co-operative identity. 

An Opportunity for Co-operatives

The 150-year-old history of the Rochdale system of
co-operatives is brimming with good intentions regarding
equality between women and men. The idea of gender equality
has, in fact, existed in the  Co-operative Movement from the
very beginning.  Nevertheless, co-operatives have not really
appreciated gender equality as one of their special
characteristics and success factors. Today co-operatives
should not overlook the fact that gender equality will
gradually acquire legitimacy of its own.

They should instead reveal their great potential and take the
opportunity to become organisations that surmount the hurdles
of tradition, discrimination and inequality.  The recipe is to
put the power of gender diversity to full and positive use as
a co-operative characteristic, and the factor underpinning
co-operative success.

East-West Relations 

The transformations in the former centrally planned economy
countries altered the economic and social environment in
Eastern and Central Europe. Under the old system, formal
gender equality existed and there was a higher participation
of women in the labour force than anywhere else in the world.
However, such gender equality was to a great extent built on
the idea of protecting women and giving them a chance to
fulfil their roles as wives and mothers. Social benefits such
as free or low-cost nurseries, kinder-gartens, medical care
and recreational  facilities financed by the State or
workplace were extensive.  It appears as though these
practices are now operating against wome's interests, having
deteriorated their workplace image and resulting in greater
gender bias in recruitment.  
Although it is difficult to get any gender-based information
on the impact of the transformation process, women seem to
have very limited influence on shaping  the institutional,
structural and policy changes of co-operatives or other
institutions.  Women play an important role in the economy of
Eastern and Central European countries (ECEC) as they
represent  on average half of the labour force and are, in
most countries,  equally and often better educated than
men.The low valued and poorly paid positions they
predominantly hold, however, bear no relation to their
education.The gender division of work is also very
traditional, leaving women with major household
responsibilities.  Women's representation within formal
associations is, as yet, poorly organized, thus they have
limited chances to defend their interests.  Consequently, they
are an easy target for redundancies. 

Co-operative laws, together with constitutions, statutes and
by-laws are basic instruments to combat gender discrimination.
They ensure both genders the right to participate on the same
terms. However, equality and justice between women and men
cannot be achieved through legislation only. Positive actions
are needed to reach the goal. 

One form of postitive action in co-operatives would be to
review all policies from the gender perspective in order to
include women`s views on the  problems of transition  and
thereby eliminate the danger of marginalizing women as members
and employees without utilizing their knowledge, energy, and
skills to build viable co-operatives. The lack of concern
about gender equality in the co-operatives' transition process
can have serious consquences on their credibility as
democratic organisations based on members' needs.  

Positive action should include the elimination of traditional
views on gender roles and the promotion of women`s image  as
active partners in decision-making and the building of new
co-operative structures.

One important tool is the development of data and statistics
in order to expose the differences between women`s and men`s
conditions. Gender equality should  be promoted not only
because women are subordinated but rather because women's
skills, experience and education are needed for co-operative

Gender integration in ECEC co-operatives also requires gender
focus in foreign aid projects. So far a rather low priority
has been given to gender-specific programmes by these

Corporate Governance

Co-operatives live very often in two separate worlds - in a
world of co-operative values and ideals  and in a world of
business and such conflict will adversely affect their

Co-operatives claim to be based on values and principles; they
also approve of policies and pass resolutions. But do they
live up to them? Although much time,  energy and human and
financial recources are expanded on them, the answer is very
often negative. And since values, principles, policies and
resolutions are merely alleged, co-operative credibility is
inevitably destroyed. 

The separate worlds of theory and practice are often reflected
in the roles and responsibilities of governing bodies versus
full-time professional leadership, resulting in conflicting
goals and behaviour. But co-operatives need elected leaders
and professional management who are guided by co-operative
values and principles and are committed to the implementation
of the co-op goals in partnership.

Co-operators are now about to consider the revision of
co-operative principles. The survival  and future success of
co-operatives depends on their ability to translate their
values and principles into practice. The ideals should be
woven into a sincere, honest and open business policy.
Therefore the principles must be - although challenging and
goal-oriented -  realistic and trustworthy.   

Gender imbalance in co-operatives is one of the most striking
contradictions between co-operative theory and practice.
However, eliminating the unequal power relationship and gender
segregation and creating a new partnership between women and
men could bring new strength to co-operatives.This partnership
means removing every obstacle from women's active 
participation through shared power and shared

Women can bring new perspectives to co-operative management
control systems and corporate governance. Research supports
the fact  that  women have skills to offer in view of the
changing challenges in working life. If women are given the
opportunity to break the glass ceiling and advance to
committees, boards and professional leadership positions, they
can  prove that strong, innovative and effective leaders do
not come from the male mould alone.  They can demonstrate that
the command-and-control or top-to-bottom systems often
associated with large, traditional co-operatives, can be
replaced by a non-traditional leadership style which allows
people to participate and contribute. This can increase
co-operative chances to improve efficiency and success in the
changing world. Diversity of leadership styles and a
combination of the strengths and talents of women and men can
change systems and routines within organisations and bring new
competitiveness into the co-operative form of enterprise.  
The importance of gender equality should be recognised at
Board level and gender issues should be on Board meeting
agendas. It is important that resources, including management
time, are made available to examine and progress the issue. 
As women are the ones who are disadvantaged mostly in gender
issues, each co-operative should set itself targets for
increasing opportunities for women.  In a co-operative, the
targets should cover both membership, with the intention of
improving female representation on committees and at Board
level, and employees; the latter to improve opportunities in
the workplace including increasing  the proportion of senior
female managers.  The targets should be achievable within a
fixed period of time and should be made public to members and
employees.Development pro-grammes to achieve these targets
need to be organised and   progress has to be monitored and

Proposed Equal Opportunities Plan   

-    recognition of gender equality as a co-operative
     characteristic and success factor

-    recognition of the strength of democracy and partnership

-    action plan with time-specific targets for achieving

-    adopt the goal of democracy and partnership in all
     co-operative policy-making structures and create
     mechanisms for its implementation 

-    create the conditions for the equal participation and
     employment  for women and men 

-    develop career advancement programmes for women and men 
     through  career planning, tracking, mentoring and

-    establish data bases on the qualifications of both women
     and men to be used  for appointment to quality jobs and
     senior managerial positions on an equal basis

-    provide  gender sensitivity training to encourage women
     and men to respect diversity in work and leadership
     styles, i.e elimination of traditional thinking on the
     gender roles of board members and in the labour market

-    encourage both men and women to seek non-traditional

-    monitoring and reporting progress.

North-South Issues

"Of the 47 least developed countries in the world 32 are in
Africa. Economic decline, recession and external debt continue
to worsen their situation. More than a third of the people of
Africa live in abject  poverty and are unable to meet their
most basic needs. In 1991, this number was estimated at about
250 million".
"The agricultural sector can contribute up to 50 per cent of
the GDP, while the agricultural population can make up to 85
per cent of the total.  The heavy burden of poverty falls dis-
proportionately on women, especially female-headed households
whose proportion is increasing and is now around 35 per cent. 
Feminization of poverty has therefore become a reality. 
Although women constitute more than half of the population,
have limited access, ownership and co-ownership to land and
housing, they nevertheless provide 60 to 80 per cent of the
food supply. In formal employment, they are concentrated in
low pay, low grade sectors with poor promotion prospects.
Women are the backbone of both cash crop and subsistence
farming, yet their non-marketed productive and reproductive
activities are neither marketable nor recognized as economic
outputs.  They are thus denied the tools and means of
sustainability and still confront considerable discrimination
that constitute a major obstacle to productivity".

"Women in Africa, as the main providers and traditional
managers of food at the family and household level, can play a
key role in the equitable distribution and redistribution of
scarce resources.  Strengthening of women's potential for
management of food and food aid resources can ensure that
women`s priorities, and their families' well-being, are better

"Women in Africa must be empowered to participate in economic
structures and policy formulation and in the productive
process itself.  It is now recognized that the contribution of
rural women in Africa is critical in development. Women's
empower-ment will enhance their capacity to realistically
alter the direction of change for their well-being as well as
of society as a whole.  It is also crucial to engage the
younger generation of women as active partners for changes. 
Consequently, strategies and actions are needed in order to
move away from the current welfare orientation to address the
economic empowerment of women, and in particular strengthen
and support their participation in trade and industry; stem
the growing disparity between rural and urban conditions; and
move towards environmentally sustainable actions for poverty
alleviation through sustainable development".

"The educational process reinforces existing gender
inequalities which in turn shape the perceptions that
influence curriculum desingners, textbook writers,
audio-visual aids designers as well as teachers and pupils. 
However, the impact of appropriate policies and programmes to
address the gender disparities in education is yet to be
assessed.  Decisions on what is to be learnt at what level and
by whom and delivered by whom are male-dominated, thus
perpetuating gender-based stereo-types".  

"The absence of gender-disaggregated data based on separate
records for men and women, is a source of gender blindness and
gender bias against women."

The above quotations are from the African Platform for Action
adopted by the Fifth Regional Conference on Women, held at
Dakar from 16 to 23 November. This  Platform of Action,
prepared for the Fourth  World Conference on Women, provides
ample information about gender inequality in Africa from the
African perspective and should as such direct the co-operative
North-South relations and development activities. Gender
equality should be included among the highest objectives of 
co-operative development work. Investing in gender equality is
an effective use of  scarce development resources: women in
the South are economic and social agents and not  passive
recipients of welfare. 

Co-operative Communications

The past twenty years have seen  an explosion in the field of
communications.  New computer technology and satellite and
cable TV increase the access to information and create new
opportunities for participation and development.  Humanity is
experiencing a fundamental transformation period labelled "
the information society".

The communication and information systems,  the press, radio
and television have great influence on people`s understanding
of the world, their knowledge, values and attitudes. They are
powerful tools which can either work for the advancement  of
gender equality or contribute to maintaining stereotypes of
women and men and support the present power imbalance and the
division of responsibilities which prevent equality.

The media picture of genders is not just and impartial.  Men
continue to have more important positions in the media and
male-dominated areas enjoy great esteem, whereas media less
often views life from women`s perspective. Media output
generally focuses on the fields of politics, the economy,
engineering, military skills, sports and transport, which
continue to be male domains.  Women are rarely presented as
dynamic forces with their own views. They are more often
portrayed as victims or used to attract attention without any
real connection to the matter in question (photos,
advertisements). When women are used as experts, they
generally represent social or cultural affairs. The expertise
of women in other fields and women`s positive contributions to
society are seldom reported in the media.

In view of the above, it is recommended that co-operatives
review their communication and information strategies,
policies and practices from a gender perspective and reveal,
recognize and take into account the exisiting inequalities.
The network of co-operative communi-cations and information
systems is extensive. It comprises meetings, negotiations,
media, research, education and training etc. New technologies
will increase their importance. With a systematic gender-
positive and gender-balanced approach  they can have a
significant impact in implementing gender equality in
co-operatives and  building a more positive image of
co-operatives as democratic and progressive forces in society.

Greater involvement of women in the technical and
decision-making areas of communication and media would
increase awareness of women`s lives from their own
perspective. In order to combat gender segregation and produce
new role models, co-operative media should portray women as
leaders and managers.
Further recommendation for action is to ensure that the
information revolution treats genders equally. Everyone should
have access to new technologies and be equipped to work with
them. Computer and technological skills should not be

Co-operative Schools

Education is a basic human right and necessary for the
advancement of gender equality. Equal education benefits both
girls and boys and results in more just and democratic
relationships between women and men. However, a
gender-segregated educational system and a gender-segregated
labour market continue to exist. School education continues to
steer girls and boys towards  traditional gender roles.

In view of the project on Co-operatives and Schools,
co-operatives are recommended to see to it  that their work
with schools supports gender-equal education. It is felt that
much development work has to be done to make the content and
methods of education equal to both genders. School material
leaves women`s contribution to history hidden. Women`s
achievements and their thinking continue to be invisible both
in the curriculum and in the attitudes and values of the

Equality must therefore be mainstreamed in the planning and
implementation of the project on Co-operatives and Schools. It
is important to produce materials that appeal equally to girls
and boys and awaken their interest in co-operatives as
economic organisations meeting members' needs. The school
approach should also promote non-traditional careers for both
girls and boys providing examples which improve their
awareness of the importance of shared power and shared
responsibilities at home, at the work place and in the


In his background paper on Co-operative Identity in the
Twenty-First Century Professor Ian MacPherson writes: "Between
1970 and 1995 there has been a rapid expansion of market
economies around the world.  Traditional trade barriers have
changed significantly and many of those changes  - for
example, the creation of free trade areas, the decline in
Government support for agriculture, deregulations in the
financial industries - threaten the economic frameworks within
which many co-operatives have functioned.  To prosper, in many
instances merely to survive, co-operatives have to examine how
they will react to these changed circumstances.

Inevitably, these changes mean that most co-operatives are
facing much more intense competition.

It is for this reason that the  power of gender equality and
individual diversity should be put to full and positive use as
one of the factors underpinning co-operative success!

* Ms Itkonen is the Director of International Relations for
FCCA, Finland, Board Member of the ICA and the Coordinator for
Gender Issues in the ICA European Working Group I on internal