ICA Report - Co-ops & Platform for Action (Dec 1994)

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  This document has been made available in electronic format by
         the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
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             INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATIVE ALLIANCE
          NGO with Consultative Status I with ECOSOC

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   CONTRIBUTION OF CO-OPERATIVES TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN
         COMMENTS TO THE DRAFT PLATFORM FOR ACTION OF
             THE FOURTH WORLD CONFERENCE ON WOMEN

               Submitted to the Secretariat of 
            the Fourth World Conference for Women
                        December 1994
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     Introduction
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Co-operatives, as democratic, member-run and member-financed
self-help enterprises have a great potential contributing to the
improvement of the economic and social conditions of women
worldwide. This has been recognized by the United Nations
Secretary-General in his reports on the co-operative movement,
Status and Role of Co-operatives in the Light of New Economic and
Social Trends, the most recent issued 1 July 1994 (A/49/213).

The Nairobi Forward Looking Strategy also notes and recommends
the participation in co-operative organizations as a means
towards self-empowerment. 

Co-operatives have a key role to play as they are able to respond
to both women's practical and strategic needs by providing access
to income-generating activities as worker-owners and providing
essential services which contribute to the advancement of women
such as health-care, child-care, consumer goods. By virtue of
this double capacity, women can have access to common production
resources (such as credit, land, marketing facilities,
infrastructure, tools, technology, etc), which increase their
income as well as lighten their tasks. By forming themselves into
co-operatives they can also benefit from economies of scale and
improve their access to opening markets.

The Draft Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women in Asia and
the Pacific (E/ESCAP/RUD/SOCWD/5), recommends that women's co-
operatives should be encouraged (para.ii, page 20) and recognizes
the role and contribution of co-operatives to social protection
(para. iv, page 20).

However, the Global Draft Plan of Action does not make specific
reference to the role of co-operatives in contributing to the
advancement of women despite making numerous references to the
role of self-help groups, community organizations and NGOs.

The broad contribution of co-operatives to the improvement of the
economic, social and cultural situation of women should be noted
especially as regards: (see specific examples in annexed regional
reports)

     Combating poverty
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Co-operatives provide income-generating opportunities to women
in all regions of the world.  Not only are co-operatives
employers providing flexible working conditions for women
especially in Europe and North America, but more importantly they
constitute a form of enterprise which is particularly adapted to
women who often lack access to productive resources.  Women opt
for the co-operative form of enterprise where they become worker-
owners.

     Improve access to education and training
     ----------------------------------------
The principle of education and training for members is one of the
precepts of co-operatives and is a precondition for the
empowerment of women. Co-operatives in Asia, Africa and the
Americas are engaged in a variety of education and training
programmes including literacy programmes, management training,
technical training relating to production, environment and gender
awareness training.  In addition, training is also provided so
as to increase women's self-esteem and leadership skills so as
to provide opportunities to have access to decision-making
positions.

     Accessible Health care
     ----------------------
Co-operatives in Europe, Latin America and North America are
providing quality health care at reasonable costs.  One of the
principal beneficiaries have been women.

     Combating violence against women
     --------------------------------
Women in Asia and North America have reported that co-operatives
have played a role in reducing violence against women. As respect
of women is often related to economic independence, women who
participate in co-operatives are less likely to be victims of
violence since they are income earners. In addition, co-
operatives offer security and protection as they are based on
solidarity and support among their members.  

     Equality
     --------
Co-operatives have a role to play in changing institutional
biases and traditional and cultural practices and attitudes that
have frustrated women's efforts to participate in the economy as
more than just marginal actors.  For example, the International
Co-operative Alliance which regroups over 200 member
organizations from 101 countries representing 765 million
individuals has been engaged in disseminating information and
material aimed at recognizing the important contribution of women
in development and the need to take concrete measures in each co-
operative to contribute to the advancement of women.

Women can thus through their participation in co-operatives
contribute to the economy of the household and improve their
social situation within their communities. 

At grassroots level, women have reported that participation in
co-operatives have increased their self-esteem, assisted in
earning the respect of their spouses, provided a degree of
independence, accessed education, training and information,
developed their leadership skills and consequently provided
opportunities for the advancement of women.  A number of examples
are provided in the annexed documents.  These were circulated at
the regional level preparatory meetings for the Fourth World
Conference on Women in Jakarta, Mar del Plata; Vienna and Dakar.

     Conclusion
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Co-operatives are a tested model of organized collaboration which
provide avenues for both women and men to pool human resources,
converting individual potential into a socio-economic force. They
are a form of organization which women can use to help
themselves. With their democratic structure, co-operatives offer
women as members and employees opportunities for participation
in and influence over economic activities. Women gain self-
reliance through this participation, as well as access to
opportunities which they would not have been able to obtain on
their own. 

Finally, co-operatives both individually and collectively through
national, regional and international co-operative organizations
have made a pledge to further the advancement of women. The ICA
which regroups co-operative organizations worldwide is actively
working towards this aim - our common challenge into the next
millennium.


     Reports on the Contribution of Co-operatives prepared for
     the regional preparatory meetings (Africa, Asia/Pacific,
     Latin America/Caribbean) were annexed to this report. 
     These can be found under "Contribution of Co-ops by
     Region".