Contribution of Co-ops to Platform for Action: Violence

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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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D.   VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
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As a basic principle of their organization co-operatives stress
non-discrimination and tolerance among all members, as well as
specifically, respect for the equality of women and men. In
addition to the business activities with which they are engaged,
co-operatives constitute a forum within which members are not
only enabled to draw attention to issues they consider important,
but can bring to bear pressures to reduce or avoid recalcitrant
behaviour. Action within each co-operative is supported by the
educational and value-forming work of the international co-
operative movement.

By providing productive and secure employment in conditions of
dignity and equality, and by contributing by this fund other
means to the alleviation of poverty, its eventual elimination and
the protection of persons from falling into poverty, co-
operatives play an important part in the reduction of the
financial stress which is the cause of a significant proportion
of violence against women in families, households and
communities. Co-operative insurance, banking and savings and
credit co-operatives provide secure means whereby women may
establish and maintain financial autonomy, providing alternatives
for women who need not be forced to remain within violent family
situations because they have no financial resources of their own.

Numerous types of co-operatives, including in particular consumer
co-operatives, undertake member-information campaigns directed
against violence and for women's full rights. In Canada, for
example, the Co-operative Housing Federation has addressed the
problem of domestic violence through raising awareness, ensuring
that education material and training programmes on domestic
violence and advising members how to respond when it occurs in
their communities. In some countries consumer co-operatives have
set up their own advertising enterprises, which follow strictly
the values and principles of the co-operative movement and which
seek to avoid the commercialization of violence, indirectly and
directly. Co-operative insurance enterprises have been
particularly concerned to help overcome violence to their women
members, and to women in general. For example, the Swedish
Folksam Co-operative Insurance Group works with the Swedish
Organization of Emergency Shelters for Battered Women (ROKS),
recently publishing two books concerned with gender issues in
general, and violence against women in particular.

Child-care co-operatives, which stress parent participation,
establish learning environments where respect between parents,
and between women and men in general, is taken to be a basic
value, and where attitudes leading to violence are examined and
avoided.

Health co-operatives cater for the counselling and rehabilitation
of women victims of violence. Service and care co-operatives
provide shelter to such women. Many women victims of violence
have found economic and personal security in small producer co-
operatives. For example, in the United States the Watermark
Association of Artisans in North Carolina, markets craft articles
produced by rural women, many of whom had been battered wives,
providing access to incomes which allow them an independent life.

E.   EFFECTS OF ARMED OR OTHER KINDS OF CONFLICT ON WOMEN
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Co-operative principles emphasis dignity, tolerance and harmony
in working together in a voluntary and democratically controlled
working context. This encourages mutual understanding between
diverse members, enabling them to work and live together when
otherwise they might never have done so. In many countries the
existence and operation of co-operatives has been a significant
factor in introducing into communities characterized by hostile
segments opportunities for putting aside antagonisms. Former
opponents have seen that the benefits of putting aside mutual
hostility were not only real, but could be distributed equitably.

Co-operatives are members of national movements which in many
countries are economically and socio-culturally heterogeneous.
However, because they are imbued with a single set of co-
operative values and principles, motivation and opportunity
exists for working together within a common framework on an
entirely pragmatic basis in order to seize common opportunities
and resolve common problems. They form part of an essentially
bottom-up movement, responsive to a highly varied individual
membership, including producers and consumers, lower and middle
income members, core and marginal locations, central and
"marginal" population segments, etcetera.

Moreover, by their existence, whether in homogeneous or
heterogeneous communities, co-operative enterprises contribute
to the diffusion of familiarity with democratic processes by
means of their procedures for member control of business policies
and practices. These include active participation of all members
in the process of consensus-building and decision-taking by means
of articulation of ideas and debate, adherence to election
procedures and respect for the right of all members to vote.
Members develop commitment, accountability, trust and honesty by
these means. The experience spills over into other spheres of
activity within the local community and national society. For
these reasons, co-operative membership is particularly
significant for women, who gain confidence in participating in
public life. All of these processes tend toward strengthening
means to overcome disagreement in a peaceful manner, defusing
many potential sources of conflict.

By these means violence and conflict are reduced, and the
particular harm done to women is such situations is thereby
lessened or avoided. Membership in co-operatives, with the
enhanced confidence in participation in public affairs gained
thereby, also allows women to take part directly in the avoidance
of conflict through participation in societal decision-making and
management through democratic means.

At the international level, the co-operative movement has from
its inception taken action to safeguard and restore peace, often
being the only type of organization to include members from both
sides in a conflictual situation, and thereby providing a common
forum, as well as a vehicle for communication. Women members have
participated in as well as benefited from, this capability.

Co-operative business enterprises have been able in many
countries to take over from state enterprises, as well as from
private for-profit enterprises, in situations of retrenchment,
privatization, and economic adjustment. In some cases they have
provided an organizational means whereby armaments enterprises
have been taken over by their workers and have shifted their
production schedules to peaceful purposes.

Service and care co-operatives provide shelter, including
opportunities for reintroduction to productive employment, to
women who have suffered from violence in conflictual situations,
including those with disabilities. For example, in the Central
American countries recently subject to internal strife, co-
operatives have provided nuclei of protection and survival for
numerous women who were heads of families, including many widows
and persons whose husbands had disappeared. In addition to
providing a means for economic survival, membership of co-
operatives, and consequently of regional and national movements,
provided a fundamental psychological support to women during the
period of conflict and subsequent rehabilitation. Numerous forms
of co-operative have been adopted as organizational means for the
resettlement of internally displaced populations as well as
international refugees, thereby benefiting women members, as well
as women in participating families.

Co-operative media at national and international levels provide
a powerful means for the diffusion of information and views which
reduce violence and the dangers of conflict.