ICA Report: Regional PrepCom - Europe/N. America

  This document has been made available in electronic format by
         the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA)

            International Co-operative Alliance

                 IN THE UN ECE REGION

    Statement to the High-Level Preparatory Meeting for 
          the Fourth World Conference on Women
       Women in a Changing World - Call for Action 
                 from an ECE Perspective
                17-21 October 1994, Vienna

Co-operatives,1/ as democratic, member-run and member-financed
self-help enterprises have a great potential contribution to the
improvement of the economic and social conditions 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) and
highlighted in the Note by the Secretary-General on the Outcome
of the World Summit for Social development: Draft Declaration and
Programme of Action (A/CONF.166/PC/L.13).

As business enterprises accounting for significant proportions
of the GDP in agricultural production, banking, insurance,
industry, and distributive trade in many of the 54 member states
of the ECE, co-operatives are contributing to the empowerment of
women.  Through participation in co-operatives, can secure
economic independence.  More specifically, co-operatives improve
women's access to employment opportunities.  They offer women
opportunities to influence and participate in economic decision-
making, for career development through training and education,
and provide services which cater to the particular needs of women
members and customers (access to credit, consumer supply, health
and child-care, etc.)  Co-operative strive to change attitudes
and reduce the discrimination against women in society.  They
offer security and protection with a group with common needs and
thus reduce the prevalence of violence against women.  Finally
co-operatives are a source of innovation allowing both women and
men to address present and future economic and social problems.

It should be noted that co-operatives have an important role to
place in economies of transition, where changing economic and
social environments are providing opportunities for co-operative

Employment Opportunities

Unemployment is becoming one of the region's most pressing
problems with women hit hardest by rising joblessness.  As
employers, co-operatives provide productive employment
opportunities for both men and women; it is estimated that
approximately half of the workforce in co-operatives are women., 
As in other sectors, co-operative have only recently begun
collecting gender disaggregate statics.  However, the few figures
that do exist illustrate the capacity of the co-operative
movement in creating productive employment for women.

In Finland, 85% of the employees in Eka Corporation, a co-
operative in the retail trade sector, are women.  In Lithuania,
69% of the total number of employees working in the co-operative
movement as a whole are women.  In Sweden at the Folksam
insurance co-operative, 53% of the total number of employees are
women.  In Russia 73% (1.1 million) employees of the consumer co-
operative movement are women.  In Switzerland, one of the largest
consumer co-operatives, Coop Suisse, reported in 1993 that 60%
of its employees were women.  I Turkey, the largest agricultural
co-operative, Taris, reports that 17.66% of its employees are
women.  In Ukraine women account for 71% of the total number of
employees in the co-operative movement form all sectors.  In the
United Kingdom, 60% of the members of the credit unions
affiliated to the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd. are

In addition to policies and conditions of work which recognize
the needs of women, co-operatives have also increased
opportunities for women by providing education and training, not
only in terms of career development for those already in the
workforce, but also in terms of training for those entering the
job market.  Specific an special management training for women
are common in the insurance, banking, and savings and credit

However, co-operative not only offer women job opportunities as
employees, but also constitute a form of enterprise which is
particularly adapted to women who often lack access to productive
resources.  Many women opt for the co-operative form of
enterprise where thy become work-owners.  Many small-scale co-
operatives have been established by women who seek to increase
their incomes.  The Watermark Association of Artisans, co-
operative which markets crafts for rural women (many of whom had
been battered wives) is one example of how the co-operative form
of business enterprise has provided rural women in North
Carolina, United Sates, access to an income-generating activity. 
In Spain, rural agricultural women worker-members of co-
operatives make up 14% of the active agricultural population./2 
In the United Kingdom women entrepreneurs have established
numerous small scale workers' co-operatives, and in Finland and
Sweden new co-operatives are being formed including supply co-
operatives, village, development, service, communication and
publishing co-operatives, many of which on the initiative of
women as a response to growing unemployment.

Finally, participation in the running of a co-operative as a
member also provides business training and thus opportunities for
the advancement of women.  Marketable skills and the necessary
confidence for women presently outside the formal work force are
attained in co-operatives allowing them to re-enter the workforce
or seek opportunities for advancement if they are already working
outside the home.

Equal Opportunities

     When co-operatives deal with issues that cluster around
     equity , they address questions that have to with how co-
     operative organization "do democracy" and "how they do
     business"... Thinking about equity for women in democracy
     and management structures is one of a number of "ways in"
     to thinking about the relevance and effectiveness of co-
     operatives in general.../3

Co-operative have developed policies aimed at increasing the
productivity and commitment of their workforce (i.e. both members
and employees).  As noted above, women often constitute moire 50%
of the workforce of co-operatives.  Economic sense combined with
the application of the co-operative principle of democracy have
led many co-operatives to analyze how to secure the full and
effective participation of women.  Many co-operatives have
adopted policies which allow women to better reconcile work with
family responsibilities, while in others "Family Policies" are
being enacted to allow for the sharing of family responsibilities
by men and women.  These are particularly well developed in the
co-operative movements of the Nordic countries and North America.

Personnel policies and conditions of work in co-operative have
been modified to include flexible hours, compressed work
schedules, seasonal hours, job-sharing, support for the elderly
and children including on-site child-care, financial support
child-care, extended maternity/paternity leave, use of sick leave
or personal leave.  For example in Canada, co-operatives form all
sectors of activity - dairy, wheat pool, credit unions, housing
, health care, workers' and consumer co-operatives, have adopted
family policies which allow more flexible work schedules./4

Co-operatives in Sweden pioneered equal opportunity programmes. 
The first comprehensive programme for equal opportunities  on the
Swedish labour market was adopted in 1978 by Folksam, and
insurance co-operative group.  Kooperativa Forbundet, a consumer
co-operative, has more recently adopted an ambitious plan for
equal rights focusing on how as an employer, KF can implement
measure to ensure equal rights and opportunities for women.  The
policy includes provision for equal pay, provision of education
and training as well as gender sensitization seminars for at
least 70% of its employees in the first year.

In the United Kingdom, the Co-operative Insurance Society (CIS)
adopted its Equal Opportunity Policy in April 1991 ensuring the
equal opportunities in employment regardless of race and/or
gender.  This co-operative has produced materials including a
video to assist in the application of the policy.

Women in Decision-making

Co-operative are a form of organization which provide avenues for
both women and men to pool human resources, converting individual
potential into a socio-economic force.  They area 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 on
economic activities.  Women gain self-reliance through this
participation, accessing opportunities which they would not have
been able to obtain on their own.  Co-operatives are a tested
model of organization.

The statistical evidence presently available on women co-
operators in decision-making positions shows that women are not
yet adequately represented in the ranks of power, policy and
decision-making.  However, many co-operative organizations
throughout Europe and North America have begun examining
systematic mechanism to improve women's access to decision-making
positions and upper management.

The World Council of Credit Unions, an international organization
bringing together savins and credit co-operatives and credit
unions worldwide, has been actively seeking ways of increasing
women's participation in decision-making.  In the ECE region,
WOCCU members are present in Canada, Ireland, Poland, the United
States and the United Kingdom.  Recommendations were presented
to the WOCCU Board of Directors Annual general Meeting in July,
1994 calling for increased education programmes targeted at
credit union officials, staff and members; increased attention
to gender issues and more active recruitment of women for
leadership roles and board positions./5

In Denmark, agricultural co-operatives have analyzed the reason
for women's low participation and representation at decision-
making levels.  Action has been taken to remove practices which
hinder the participation of women (voting systems now allow two
votes per household rather than one which traditionally had been
reserved for men) and efforts have been made to encourage
qualified women in management positions through a programme
entitled, 'Women Can'.  IN Norway, the National Association of
Norwegian Dairies (NML), an agricultural co-operative, is in the
process of implementing a project -- 'Women in Management 1991-
1995.  This project aims are increasing women in management
positions through fender sensitization for staff and officials,
management training, assertiveness training, and reviewing bye-
laws to allow more active participation of women in economic
decision-making, etc.

The ICA Women's Committee/Co-op Network Women's Programme for
East and Central Europe is also active in the provision of
managerial training for women participating  in co-operatives,
thus enhancing their access to decision-making positions.

Co-operative Services

Co-operatives also provide services to women and their families
which ease women's workload and provide them with opportunities
for advancement.

Daycare co-operatives are on form of co-operative which allose
women to reconcile work with family responsibilities.  Daycare
co-operatives exist in many of the ECE member states.  In the
United States, the first child-care co-operatives was established
in 1916.  Today, more than 50,000 families send their children
to co-operative daycare centres./6  In Sweden more than two-
thirds of private daycare centres are either parental or worker
co-operatives daycare services./7  Daycare co-operatives are
functioning in a number of countries including Canada, Hungary,
Italy, Norway, Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom to list
just a few.

However, in almost all sectors of activities, co-operatives, as
enterprises serving the needs of their members and clients, have
contributed to the advancement of women directly by providing
services to women and indirectly by providing services which
allow for economic and social development and job creation.

     Savings and credit co-operative have adopted policies to
     facilitate the provision of credit to women, insurance co-
     operatives have establish programmes which are better
     suited to women's life-cycles allowing them to benefit from
     flexible pension schemes, health and life insurance,
     householders and home-owners insurance, etc.

     Consumer co-operatives have provided women access to
     consumer products in convenient locations without
     sacrificing quality; consumer electricity co-operatives
     have provided 25 million people in rural communities in the
     United States access to electricity, affecting the quality
     of life in rural areas in terms of economic development and
     job creation.  Consumer co-operatives are also providing
     women with information not only on consumer issues, but
     also on environmental and nutritional issues in countries
     such as Austria, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden,
     Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

     Housing co-operatives provide women with access to low-
     cost, high quality, safe and secure housing.  In Canada
     housing co-operatives, through the Co-operative Housing
     Federation of Canada, have addressed the problem of
     domestic violence through raising awareness, ensuring that
     education materials and training programmes on domestic
     violence are available to members, encouraging active steps
     to prevent domestic violence and advising members how to
     respond to domestic violence when it occurs in their
     community.  In Sweden, Folksam, and insurance co-
     operatives, has also provided information to members on how
     to ensure the respect of women's human rights as well as
     their legal and financial rights.

     Health co-operatives too indirectly contribute to the
     advancement of women by providing quality health care at
     reasonable cost.  Health care co-operatives are prominent
     in Canada, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United States.

Changing Attitudes

Co-operative also influence the understanding of the role of
women in society. Through their own communication channels both
within the co-operatives and outside the co-operative to its
user, co-operatives have the ability to influence attitudes on
the importance on non-discrimination of women but in the
workplace and in society as a while, highlighting the
contribution of women in economic, political and social spheres.

Nearly all co-operatives publish a newsletter or other form of
printed information for distribution to their members and the
general public.  other forms of media are also used by co-
operatives to educate their members and change attitudes towards
women and to their participation and contribution in society.

Future Directions

The examples above have shown how co-operatives are presently
contributing to the improvement of the status of women both
economically and socially. Co-operative organizations both
individually and collectively through national, regional and
international co-operative organizations have made a pledge to
further the advancement of women.

The ICA has demonstrated its commitment to improving the lives
of women through improved participation in co-operatives.  In
1192, ICA  member organizations adopted the ICA policy on Women
in Co-operative Development.  Shortly after, a Focal Point for
Women's Issues for the European region was named to ensure that
proper attention is being focused on women in co-operatives in
the region.  The ICA Women's Committee which began as the Women's
Guild at the turn of the century, continues to organize seminars
and encourages exchanges of experience on how to improve women's
participation in co-operatives.

ICA will continue its work promoting networking among its member
organization as well as with other organizations and bodies which
aim at bettering the economic and social conditions of both women
and men.  It reiterates its wish to contribute to and collaborate
with other organizations in programmes which aim to improve the
status of women.

1/   A co-operative is a group of people who join together to
achieve a common end through the formation of democratically
controlled organization, making equitable contribution to the
capital required and accepting a fair share of the risk and
benefits of the undertaking in which the member actively
participate.  Co-operative exist in all region of the world and
are active in all sectors of activity at both urban and rural

2/   Garcia Bartolome, Prof Juan Manuel.  "Research Programme on
Rural Women and Youth".  FAO European Commission on Agriculture. 

3/ Thie, Leona and Ketilson, Lou Hammond.  Research for Action: 
Women in Co-operatives.  Centre for the Study of Co-operatives,
University of Saskatchewan (Canada).  April, 1994, p. 1.

4/   Women in Co-operatives Task Force of the Canadian Co-
operative Association.  Family Friendly Policies.

5/   Women and Credit Unions' Symposium, 2 July 1994, Cork,

6/   National Co-operative Business Association.  "A day in the
life of Co-operative America". p. 26.

7/   Pestoff, Victor A.  "Beyond Exit and Voice" in Delivering
Welfare; Repositioning Non-profit and Co-operative Action in West
European Welfare States.  CIES, Barcelona (Spain), 1994.

               For more information, please contact:
               International Co-operative Alliance
               15 Route des Morillons
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               Tel:      +41 22 929 88 88
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               E-mail:   icageneva@gn.apc.org