Raising Awareness about Gender in the Co-operative Sector (1996)

This document has been made available in electronic format
by the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
December, 1996
(Source: Coop Dialogue, Vol.4, No.4, May-Dec., pp7-10)

Raising Awareness about Gender in the Co-operative Sector : 
A case of the State of Rajasthan, India
by Vinod Zutshi
Registrar of Co-operative Societies, Rajasthan, India  

Co-operatives are structures which, because of their voluntary 
and democratic nature have been accepted as appropriate 
vehicles for promoting economic and social interests especially 
of marginalised groups. Being democratic in character, these
 institutions also offer an opening for participation in management 
and decision making. The government policies and plans have 
also recognised the important role played by co-operatives in 

The scope of co-operatives has grown tremendously from purely
agricultural credit societies to encompass other areas like 
consumer, marketing, industry, dairy, fishery and so on. The 
nature of women's work concentrated quite often in the informal 
sector give it a potential for forming women's co-operatives, 
thereby aiming at organising activities as well as providing 
opportunities for social upliftment. The main areas of women's 
participation in the co-operative movement include income 
generation, retail trading and thrift and credit activities. Their 
participation can be as members of mixed gender co-operatives 
or organising exclusive women's co-operatives. 	

It is in the above context that one has to address oneself to the 
question that after more than four decades of independence 
whether the needs and interests of both men and women have 
been served by co-operatives themselves, and by the various 
institutions that have been created to further this purpose. 
What are the reasons for low participation of women in 
co-operatives, despite the fact that women are also found 
to be represented in various kinds of economic activity. 	

Though Rajasthan is only a more extreme case of the country 
scenario. The need for raising awareness for involvement 
of women in co-operatives, becomes even more necessary in 
a state like Rajasthan given the prevailing conditions of 
women in the state. The status of women has largely been 
determined by patriarchal values which have accorded an 
inferior position to women and has denied them equal access 
and control over crucial resources. This has been reinforced 
by centuries of history which has shaped and enhanced feudal 
norms still prevalent in the contemporary society. This 
includes aspects like female infanticide, seclusion (Purdah), 
sati, low educational opportunities for women and low value 
placed on the girl child which have contributed to the 
marginalisation of women in Rajasthan. The question that 
arises is to what extent have the institutions that are responsible 
for the policies that govern co-operatives like Co-operative 
Department and various institutional mechanisms that are 
supposed to facilitate this, address themselves to respond to 
the needs/interests of both men and women?  

The present paper attempts to focus on:  

a)  Gender-based analysis of the four major institutions 
b)  which govern the activities of the co-operative sector 
c)  in the state:
-	The State Co-operative Department as a controller,  

-	Rajasthan State Co-operative Bank and Rajasthan 
State Land Development Bank as apex institutions for primary 
agricultural co-operative societies (PACs) and primary land 
development banks (PLDBs) which constitute 76.08% of the 
co-operative membership, 

* Rajasthan State Co-operative Union which is the 
* apex body for imparting training and education regarding 
* co-operatives.  

b)  The above analysis was incorporated in the training 
c)  module on `Women and Co-operatives' prepared by the 
d)  Rajasthan Team Year 1 of the GPTP. How this analysis 
e)  has been  used and the outcome of the training has also 
f)  been discussed. 

Gender Analysis of Co-op Sector in Rajasthan 
The activities of the co-operative sector in the State mainly 
revolves around the above-mentioned four institutions. A 
gender analysis of these institutions is attempted, keeping 
in view the rules, resources, practices, power structure and 
people within these institutions. 

The State Co-operative Act, rules, policies and directives of 
all the above four institutions hardly have any specific policy, 
scheme or programme for women. The co-operative principle 
of open and voluntary membership to all persons and democratic 
participation and control by all persons implicitly assumes that 
persons will include both men and women, but invariably in 
practice only men participate, as only men have access and 
control over resources which can be used as collateral and 
security.  Similarly in the Co-operative Act and Rules, 
there are no women-specific provisions which can be clearly
 stated to be framed for the benefit of women. For example 
the one-family, one-member norm encourages the participation 
of only males as the assets are in his name. Women, therefore, 
are deprived of membership, partnership, as well as decision 
making power in co-operatives. 	

There is no provision for joint membership in PACs/PLDBs or 
any other co-operative society for reservation of seats for women 
in the elected boards of the co-operatives. This discourages 
women's participation in co-operatives as well as in their decision 
making. The State Co-operative Bank provides short-term and 
medium-term loans for agricultural purposes to its members 
through central co-operative banks and PACs. The State Land 
Development Bank provides long-term loans for agricultural 
purposes to its members through PLDBs. Since members 
required to provide collateral and security for securing these 
loans, women are deprived of membership of these co-operative 
institutions because the land/assets are not in their names. The 
membership of PACs and PLDBs constitute approximately 
76.08% of the total membership of co-operatives in Rajasthan. 

The State Co-operative Union which is responsible for raining, 
education, awareness generation, research and publicity about 
co-operation amongst the masses, members of co-operative 
societies and departmental officials also has very few 
schemes/programmes for imparting training/education to women. 

The departmental plan in centrally sponsored schemes and the 
state plan have very little provisions for women co-operatives 
in comparison to other types of co-operatives. The budgetary 
provision for the year 1993-94 under centrally sponsored 
schemes had a provision of 1534.74 lacs against which there 
was no provision for women co-operative societies. Similarly 
under the State Plan, the budgetary provision for 1993-94 was 
1600.18  lacs against which there was a provision of only 1.5 
1600.19  lacs for women co-operatives. 

A dialogue with the senior officials of the State Co-operative 
Bank and the State Land Development Bank revealed that there 
were very few specific provisions, programmes or schemes 
to promote women interests in co-operatives. The State 
Co-operative Union programmes also have very little financial 
provision for organizing training and education programmes 
for women. 

In practice, the societal factors also inhibit women's involvement 
in co-operatives in Rajasthan. The women's role is confined 
as a home-maker, while the man has the role of bread-winner. 
Therefore, the women are unable to take an initiative to become 
members of co-operatives. 

Women's restricted mobility within the family leads to further 
restricting her mobility in the community. They are often forbidden 
to step beyond their isolated households, leave alone village 
boundaries, to obtain access to resources offered by the state. 
Hence it is only men who benefit from majority of the resources. 

The co-operative societies are often characterized by rigid timings 
and inaccessible locations which are not suited to women, thereby 
restricting their participation. 	 

The procedures for registration of co-operatives, for seeking 
membership of a co-operative or for obtaining loans and availing 
facilities through a co-operative are inflexible and involve lengthy 
and complex paper work for which even literate persons have 
to depend upon the department/institutional officials who are 
mostly men, not sensitive to women's needs. Women in Rajasthan, 
especially in rural areas are unable to cope with this  due to 
low literacy level, low self-confidence and social constraints 
of dealing with male officials. 

The women, even after becoming members of a co-operative 
society or forming their own exclusive women co-operative 
society, often continue to be harassed by departmental officials
(Inspectors) during audit, inquiry, inspection, which are 
mandatory. Such practices have been done away with in 
Andhra Pradesh, where the State Co-operative Act has a 
chapter which gives recognition to the self-help groups (SHGS) 
but this is not the case of Rajasthan.  

People and Power
The staffing pattern of the co-operative department, RSCU, 
RSLDB and RSCU has very few female officials (see Table 1). 

Table 1
Staffing pattern of co-operatives in Rajasthan 

	      State Co-op      RSCB     RSLDB   RSCU   CCBs 
Officials    2,629           345      187      77   3,874
Officials       80            12       11       4      71

Total         2,707          357       198     81    3,945

Moreover the women officials are also generally not dealing 
with issues related to women. The people responsible for 
implementation and execution of departmental/institutional 
schemes and programmes are mostly men, who are not sensitive 
to the women's needs and  issues. 

The managing committees and administrators of various state
 level, district level and primary level co-operative institutions 
(other than all-women co-operative institutions) also have 
virtually no women-representation and as a result only men 
and involved in decision making and policy formation. Power 
and authority is therefore mainly vested in the male officials/office 
bearers (see 
Table 2).  

Table 2
Involvement of Women in various
Co-operatives in Rajasthan 
(Figures as on 31.3.1992) 


Members mainly males
Land/Assets in their name 
Other Co-op Institutions 


Members mostly Males - 
Women 1% 
All Women Co-ops  


Members women  

The Training Programme

A week-long training programme on `Empowerment of Women in 
Co-operatives' was conducted in August 1993 at the HCM RIPA, 
Jaipur in which the cutting-edge level officers of the co-operative 
department, the unit level Deputy Registrars and Assistant 
Registrars, participated. These officers who are the real 
implementors of the policies and programmes of the co-operative 
department, were exposed to the various issues raised in the 
training module. They were also taken for field visit of successful 
women co-operative societies and were made to go through 
case>studies of successful women co-operative institutions 
of Rajasthan and other states; the Mahila Samiti Bhojasar, 
Bikaner, Vijaypura Women Dairy Co-operative Society, Jaipur 
district, Rajasthan; Kutumbsakhi Co-operative Women's 
Industrial Society, Bombay. The Sewa promoted Mahila Sahkari 
Bank, Ahmedabad, National Union of Working Women, Tamil 
Nadu, Co-operative Development Foundation, Hyderabd.

The participants were also engaged in an exercise on the basis 
of their field experiences to elicit their views regarding the

a)  Analysis of the State Co-operative Act and Rules and
 also departmental policies/programmes with reference 
involvement of women in co-operatives. Identification of 
problem areas and suggestions for their improvement. 

b)  Difficulties faced in planning the formation of women's 
co-operative societies, suggestions for overcoming them and 
the support structure required. 

c)  Advantages and disadvantages of forming women's 
co-operative societies with suggestions.  

Feedback of Participants  
* The training gave them an exposure to existing gender 
inequalities in society and a clear understanding of gender 
differences in household market, community and state, 

* The training provided an exposure to the existing 
gender biases in the co-operative sector in Rajasthan, 

* A platform was provided to think and discuss 
gender issues in co-operatives, 

* An opportunity given to analyze `traditional thinking' 
on women, 

* An opportunity given for interaction with fellow 
officers to collectively understand and discuss issues of 
women and development,  

* Women officers got `space' to articulate their views 
and opportunity for self-evaluation of their attitudes 
towards women.  	

The participants took a collective decision to: 

-	adopt at least one women's co-operative society, 

* work towards organized new women's co-operatives 
and associate more and more women with the movement-try 
and change the views and attitudes of other officers in the 

Follow-up workshop
At the end of the training, the participants had requested that 
a `follow-up workshop' be organised. After a gap of one year 
in August, 1994, a follow-up workshop was organised to 
review the impact of the training. During the `follow-up 
workshop' the participants discussed their achievements and 
the difficulties they faced in the field.

Among the achievement they mentioned:  

* Formation of district level women co-operative
 banks in Jaipur, Udaipur, and Kota district. Similar
 proposals were under way in Dungarpur, Pali, Alwar and 
Chittorgarh district.  

* About 50 new primary women co-operative societies 
were registered by seven officers. 

* Formation of thrift co-operative groups in rural 
areas of Udaipur, under NCUI project. 

* Separate `women branch' of Udaipur Central Co-operative 
Bank formed to facilitate women. 

* Review of non-functional women co-operative societies 
done for reviving them.  

* Marketing facilities provided for the products of 
women co-operative societies in Kota through co-operative 
consumer stores.  

* Preparation of proposals for providing financial 
assistance to women co-operative societies done on priority 

They also identified the difficulties/hurdles faced: 

i.  Lack of awareness about co-operatives among women, 
specially in rural areas.  

ii.  Lack of training and guidance for the formation 
of women's co-operatives.  

iii.  State Co-operative Act, Rules, Bye-laws and procedures 
for formation of women co-operatives are complicated and 
should be reviewed, simplified ant made gender sensitive. 

iv.  No proper marketing support for marketing the 
products of women co-operative societies.

v.  Lack of planning at local level regarding formation 
of women's co-operative societies, increasing their membership, 
share capital and providing them financial assistance.  

The follow-up workshop also provided an orientation to the 
participants for post-workshop period.  

Action Taken (Post Training) by Department for encouraging
women's participation in co-operatives: 
A separate `Women Cell' has been formed in RCS 
office since July 1994 with a senior lady Deputy Registrar as 
officer-in-charge to:  
* review and monitor the activities of the existing 
women's co-operative societies in the state, 
* survey the possibilities of organizing new women 
co-operative societies,  
* plan and implement projects for women co-operative 
* examine proposals for providing financial assistance 
to women co-operative societies.   

* One Assistant Registrar has been placed in all zonal 
offices to monitor and review the activities of women co-operative 

* One Inspector has been placed in all unit offices to 
assist and educate women in organizing women co-operative 

* In the Co-operative Awareness Generation Camps
 organized by the department during October-November, 1994  
increasing women membership in co-operative societies and 
organizing new women co-operative societies was made an 
important Agenda item. 8,131 women were enrolled as new 
members in various co-operative societies (which earlier as 
on 31.3.92 was 7,170) and 7 new women co-operative societies 
formed during these camps.  

* Gender desegregated data collection initiated at 
departmental level.  

* 25% of the budget allocation to Rajasthan State 
Co-operative Union directed by RCS to be utilized exclusively 
for publicity and awareness generation for co-operatives 
among women only.  

* 2 women Urban Banks each in Jaipur and Udaipur 
and one in Kota formed with much more membership and share 
capital than that desired by RBI directives. 

* Proposals for provision of financial assistance up to 
Rs.11 lacs to 11 women co-operative societies sent to Government 
of India, sanction for which is awaited.

Future strategies in terms of training inputs and 
state government efforts  
i.  A workshop was held in November, 1994 to review and 
amend the State Co-operative Act, Rules, Bye-laws and 
Procedures. Amendments from gender perspective are under 
consideration for submission to the state government. 

ii.  A state level conference was organized by Rajasthan 
State Co-operative Union in November, 1994 with the objective 
of development and progress of women co-operative societies 
and to generate awareness for co-operatives among women. The 
need for a co-ordinated action between the programmes of 
women and child development, i.e., DWCRA, WDP, ICDS and 
Co-operative Department was also stressed. 

iii.  Promotional activities and awareness generation camps 
for increasing involvement of women in co-operatives has been 
made thrust areas for the departmental officials.  

iv.  RICEM has been directed by the RCS to add more 
programmes for women's co-operatives and to provide input for 
gender sensitization in all other training.