Women and the Co-operative Movement

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

               Women and the Co-operative Movement

                    by MariaElena Chavez*

The ICA has come to realize that the participation of women
inthe Co-operative Movement will be imperative if the
Co-operative Movement is to respond to the present and future
needs of society.  

Many believe this to be a revelation that will require the
future attention of the Movement.  Many are convinced that
this new idea is a reflection of the trends in women's
struggle for equality in the 1960s and today's call by women
and men for gender integration and awareness.  However, we
should go back into ICA's history and recall that, 'the place
of women in the Co-operative Movement' has been an issue that
has been addressed and discussed throughout the history of the
ICA starting at the first Co-operative Congress.  As we
celebrate our Centennial, let us critically look at our past
and, before embarking into the 21st Century, ask:

Has the Co-operative Movement made efforts to increase notonly
quantity but more importantly the quality of women's

Many men and women would reply,"In all countries where there
are co-operative organizations, it is invariably stated that
the women must be won over to the co-operative idea if the
movement is to attain its object.  Yet very little has been
done in most countries to win the women to co-operative

This observation, made by Emmy Freundlich in 1921, remainstrue
today despite the many ICA resolutions and policies.  To cite
only one example, the 11th International Congress assembled in
Ghent called on member organizations to make "the election of
women to the management boards of co-operative Societies
obligatory...".  The European Region reiterated this call only
last year in a more subtle and perhaps less emphatic move,
calling on member organizations to include more women on their
delegations to the Regional Assembly.  Rhetoric has been
abundant, action minimal.  One hundred years after its
creation, the ICA is continuing to deny itself the benefits of
women's leadership by their under-representation at
decision-making levels within its membership and its governing

As we move into the 21st century, the decision-makers of today
will need to address the issue of gender.  Each national
movement will need to take concrete action.   We know that
co-operatives can improve the lives of women by providing them
services, now let us prove that co-operatives can be leaders
in addressing gender issues and improving the overall economic
and social status of both men and women worldwide.  

* Ms Chavez is UN/Development Liaison Officer at the ICA
Headquarters in Geneva.