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Women Leadership from the Perspective of Gender Equality (1998)

June, 1998

(Source: Co-op Dialogue, Vol.8, No.1, Jan-June,1998, pp. 26-28)

Women Leadership from the Perspective of Gender Equality

by Yukiko Yamamoto, Gender Programme Advisor, ICA-ROAP


In the latest film of the 007 series, the boss of James Bond was a woman at the British Intelligence Agency, in addition world-famous Mickey Mouse will be coming back in 1999, and according to an article in ‘The Times of India’ (New Delhi, India), his girl friend `Minnie’ will be a career woman. She will have become a self-confident professional working as one of the world’s only female conductors of an international orchestra.

Although leading roles in both stories are still occupied by men, now-a-days, no one can deny the importance of gender equality, and every one has been feeling that co-operatives should achieve equal participation between men and women at all levels.

In line with the United Nation’s policies, like Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against women or Convention No.156 and recommendation No.165, from International Labour Office (ILO), various organizations - both governmental and non-governmental - including ICA , have been trying to disseminate gender perspectives and provide a lot of opportunities for gender sensitization training.

However, if you carefully observe our real situation, you will find out there is a quite long path to reach that goal.

I take some examples from the statistics of UNDP. In many countries management positions are still dominated by men, the average female ratio of Administrators and Managers in 1990 was 10% in developing countries and 27% in industrialised countries. Needless to say, the co-operatives can not be out of influence of the general situation. Each Regional Office of ICA has a Regional Assembly, which meets once in two years, and the last Regional Assembly for Asia and the Pacific met in 1996, in Kuala Lumpur. How many women were there? There was only one female representative from Malaysia among 161 delegates (excluding ICA staff).

Things are certainly getting improved, but I feel we should push forward much more with gender-equality among co-operatives.

In this short article, I would like to provide some tips for the readers as to why we have few women leaders, and how we can increase their number.

Especially I believe, my experience as a staff member of a primary consumers

co-operative in Japan, would make sufficient addition to work out these crucial issues. Although it is only from my workplace, it would be quite common in the field of membership as well. At the same time, the development of a Co-operative Leadership Training Manual for Women, which is one of ongoing ICA-ROAP projects, would also be addressed.

In 1986, soon after my graduation of university, I joined the 10th biggest primary consumers co-operative in Japan. 1986 was the year when the Equal Opportunity Law was enacted. Before that Japan had, in 1985, ratified United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women. So at that time the movement towards equality was really getting stronger, and co-operatives were quite affected from such social phenomenon, especially among top-level co-ops.

It is important to mention that Japanese Consumers Co-operative Union (JCCU) established the Women’s Council in 1991, as an advisory body to JCCU President, and it made enormous contribution to raise gender issues in all its dimensions among Japanese Consumers Co-ops by way of their own surveys and research.

Also the Women’s Council gave useful suggestions to primary co-ops as well as the JCCU. As a result of their report, Mid-term Task Forces were formed in member organizations and work-places to achieve gender integration and equality.

However as usual, it takes time to come down to primary level. Leaders tend to explain the current situation like this, and these were exactly what I was told by my boss when I asked him the organisational policy on gender equality, "We have strong intention to increase women leaders and are trying positively at it, but at this moment we don’t have any potential and capable women as managers or full time board members. That’s why we have very few women leaders. If capable women come up in future, it will be increased. We always treat men and women equally."

Meanwhile, they quite often pick on women’s attitude like, "Women tend to quit their jobs much earlier than men and that’s why we hesitate to educate and invest a lot of money on women, they (women) easily give up their carrier, they do not look highly motivated."

As far as these comments are concerned, I must say that I have no intention to criticize their individual personality or character, but socially, culturally, and traditionally, lots of people, sometimes even women as well, have these limited and narrow and often wrong ideas on gender issues.

Unfortunately, leaders whom I confronted before looked very problematic, and lacked gender perspective. Since the social situation is greatly different between man and women, usually women tend to have heavier family responsibility than men. For instance, in Japan, it was only in 1992 that Child-care Leave Law was established. Before that many private companies as well as other organizations had no such system, or they had allowed women only to take Child-care leave. And still very few men take Child-care leave, in spite of the fact that their right to share the priceless time with their own children is now in their hands. Under the strict, orthodox thinking - men at work and women at home and sexual division of labour , lots of promising women are forced to give up their carrier or social commitment historically.

Then I have to briefly introduce our women-empowering project. This project started from some dialogue with ILO-COOPNET, which is one of major partners in the field of Human Resource Development of ICA. We had initial discussions in early 1997 on the necessity of leadership training for women, and basically agreed to have a joint project which aims to develop some manual for women leadership among co-operatives. The ICA Consultation Meeting of Gender Integration Project held in 1996 has recommended such an activity. In December 1997, we organised a Preparatory Workshop in Kuala Lumpur to review the women leadership situation in Asia and Pacific region and figure out the outline of the manual. A draft manual would be produced by ILO and ICA with the support of a professional consultant, which will be tested and adopted at another regional Workshop, sometime in November, 1998.

I shall avoid the details here. However, personally I have great interest and enthusiasm in this project, since it would be the first training manual with a gender perspective in Asia and the Pacific region .

When we hold some seminar or educational activity, and if we do not specifically request for women’s nomination, it will be normally participated by men. Moreover, girls are raised up with such direction, "My dear daughter, you should keep yourself behind men, you should not express your opinion strongly, women should not be active but calm," and so on.

This apparent and also hidden approach to women is continuously attempted socially and personally. It means if the society do not make any effort to eliminate the gender bias, women leaders will never come up NATURALLY.

Regarding this, I would really like to emphasize and underline the importance of the education and the adjustment of environment around women. Women tend to have the responsibility of child-raring and housekeeping, so that a two-hours, 5-days’ seminar would be easier for them to attend than a two-full days’ one.

It is interesting to discuss weather working environment at the office is gender-neutral or not. If you have some junior workers with you, don’t you tend to assign more challenging task to men workers? Is there any information which is circulated only by ‘old boy’s network’? What I mean to say is we should change relationship between women and men or social structure which prioritize the old type sexual division of labour. Otherwise very few women could become leaders.

At the same time, I should mention "value-based co-operative management", which is now the most up-to-date study within the ICA circles. Dr. Peter Davis, an eminent Management Consultant, is a heading a `Unit for Membership Based Organisations’ at Leicester University in the UK, and has been tackling `management issues’ under the Co-operative Principles.

Luckily, I got a couple of opportunities to have discussions with Dr. Davis and I have been very much impressed with his theory. I don’t think I have understood the comprehensive study totally. However, I felt great carried away with it. Co-operative management should not be ‘dominatory’ but ‘participatory’. It’s starting point is human need. It’s role is to position the business to respond effectively to the human-centred needs. I personally feel that these ‘Co-operative style of management’ is quite close to what women have been discussing or aiming at formally or informally. These are just my personal feelings. However, I believe women should actively involve more in ‘Value-based Management’ since "Co-operatives are open to all persons, without reference to GENDER, social, racial, political or religious discrimination" (First principle of the Statement on Co-operative Identity).

We definitely need women’s views and perspectives as well as men’s to improve and strengthen co-operatives. Also it is really crucial to increase the number of women leaders to utilize our human resources fully. This way, the women would be able to contribute to co-operatives much more.

As I mentioned above, we have been trying to develop a "Co-operative Leadership Training Manual for women". It should be really a long-term project to reach its overall aim. It might take time to achieve equal participation at all levels in co-operatives. The draft manual will be completed by early 1999, and it will be disseminated to all member organizations among ICA.

It should be modified and adapted, if necessary, and be translated to local languages by member organizations. It is a long winding path, but we should proceed step-by-step. We have no alternatives. I do hope this project on Women Leadership would greatly help you and your co-operative in the years to come.