Contribution of Co-ops to Platform for Action: Decision-making

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  This document has been made available in electronic format by
         the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)
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              FOURTH WORLD CONFERENCE ON WOMEN : 
         ACTION FOR EQUALITY, DEVELOPMENT AND PEACE 
            BEIJING, CHINA, 4 - 15 SEPTEMBER 1995

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        THE CONTRIBUTION OF CO-OPERATIVE BUSINESS ENTERPRISE
            AND THE INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATIVE MOVEMENT
           TO ACHIEVEMENT OF THE STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES OF
                  THE DRAFT PLATFORM OF ACTION *
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                      New York, March 1995


PREPARED JOINTLY, PURSUANT TO GENERAL ASSEMBLY RESOLUTION 49/155,
       BY THE INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATIVE ALLIANCE AND 
    THE UNITED NATIONS DEPARTMENT FOR POLICY COORDINATION 
                AND SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT

     * For information purposes only. Not an official document 
       of the United Nations and not officially edited.


I.   CONTRIBUTIONS OF CO-OPERATIVES TO THE STRATEGIC 
       OBJECTIVES OF THE DRAFT PLATFORM OF ACTION
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G.   INEQUALITY BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN IN THE SHARING 
       OF POWER AND DECISION-MAKING AT ALL LEVELS
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The procedures whereby members of co-operatives - whether women
or men - exercise their control over the enterprises they own are
democratic. Participation in them involves gaining experience in
consensus-building and decision-making by means of articulation
of ideas and debate, adherence to election procedures and respect
ofr the right of all members to vote. Members develop commitment,
accountability, trust and honesty by these means. For these
reasons co-operatives are often termed "schools for democracy".

Although women still do not occupy posts as volunteer and elected
directors, or as appointed and employed managers to an extent
anywhere near that which would be appropriate in relation to
their membership, co-operatives do offer a channel for gaining
experience and for upward-mobility in the power structure of the
movement itself. This is true especially of co-operatives in
certain sectors. Even in those socio-cultural environments still
not generally supportive of women's advancement to positions of
responsibility, progress in co-operatives has been greater than
in other sectors of society. For example, in Costa Rica, 10 per
cent of managerial and director positions in the co-operative
savings and credit movement are occupied already by women. The
international and national movements give much attention to
improving women's full access to positions of power both in
individual co-operative enterprises and in the wider movement.

Experience gained within the co-operative movement has enhanced
many women's access to power structures outside the movment, not
only within local communities, where membership in itself, and
particularly fulfillment of responsibilities as board member or
manager, adds to respect. Familiarity with management and
decision-making enhances women's capabilities in local and
national politics, and many women in politics have gained their
entry into political life through the co-operative movement,
which in many countries enjoys significant political power. Many
co-operatives in which women are predominant among members
actively support, as well as provide an enconomically secure base
for, women's participation in political life. For example, the
Seikatsu Club Consumers' Co-operative in Japan- the ninth largest
co-operative in the country, a high proportion of whose members
are women - encourages political action. In 1993 33 of its
members were elected to municipal office under the campaign
slogan "Political reform from the kitchen".

Many types of co-operative make it possible for their women
members to find time and resources needed to engage effectively
in political life: for example, child-care and consumer co-
operatives are capable of rendering more efficent the household
sector and reduce the burden of domestic responsibilities;
producer co-operatives, and all co-operatives employing women,
favour flexible work schedules and other supportive conditions
of labour.

Co-operative movements at regional, national and international
levels undertake substantial information programmes and reach
thereby hundreds of millions of membes and thier familites in
most countries. These channels of communication contain much
information concerning the experience of women members and
employees in all areas of life including political areas, and
keep women informed on political issues. Some information is
concerned primarily with the mobilization of women through and
within the co-operative movement. For example the Asian Women's
Co-operative Foundation has worked with a regional co-operative
federation, MASS-SPEC, affiliated with the National Confederation
of Co-operatives (NATTCO) in the Philippines to confront gender
issues, paricularly among poor and isolated rural women in
southern regions of the country. The Federation publishes
trainging manuals and organizes seminars, willage meetings,
training and solidarity actions which have had a marked and
beneficial impact upon women's self-awareness.

National and regional co-operative movements are engaged in
active promotion of women's equality, and in some areas of the
world have succeeded in bring the matter to a high level of
visibility. In Central America, for example, national co-
operative movements in all the countries, supported by the
sub-regional office of the International Co-operative Alliance
located in Costa Rica, have established women's committees which
have introduced women's programmes and have stimulated genuine
confrontation with the issue throughout the co-operative
movements of these countries. Co-operative women's programmes
have succeeded in transforming women members into nuclei for the
further promotion of women's advancement in their families and
communities. Particular support has been given to co-operative
development by women among indigenous peoples.