An online survey conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Co-operative Alliance shows 75 per cent of survey respondents feel that women’s participation in co-operatives has increased over the past 20 years.
The findings come ahead of a panel and debate to be held 10 March at the United Nations in New York, called “Cooperatives: Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment”. The panel is being organized as a side event to the 59th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, which takes place from 9 to 20 March.
Regarding the survey findings, president of the International Co-operative Alliance, Dame Pauline Green said, “The Alliance and ILO joint survey highlights the unique effectiveness of the cooperative model in providing women with a dignified way out of poverty, often away from violence and abuse.”
“I am also thrilled with the survey’s indicators towards a high number of women in leadership positions, particularly in our finance and insurance co-operatives,” she added.
Key findings indicate that co-operatives are having an increasingly positive impact on women – 80 per cent of survey respondents felt that cooperatives are better than other types of private or public sector business in advancing gender equality.
“Cooperatives have a history of contributing to equality as well as to economic and social empowerment,” said Simel Esim, Chief of the ILO Cooperatives Unit (COOP).
“Considering that 2015 marks 20 years since the adoption of the United Nations’ Beijing Declaration on gender equality and women’s empowerment, these survey results reflect a positive trend for women’s involvement and advancement through the cooperative movement,” she added.
The poll of nearly 600 respondents included co-operative practitioners, civil society organizations, academics, and government workers. Fifty per cent of respondents were from Europe and 15 per cent from both Asia and North America, respectively. The remaining respondents were from sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central America, and the Middle East and North Africa.
Culture and legal framework are most significant barriers
According to survey respondents, cultural issues are the most significant barrier to gender equality encountered by cooperatives. This was overwhelmingly felt by 65 per cent of survey respondents.
Survey respondents also said further support of civil society and recognition by the state would continue to boost women’s empowerment and gender equality through cooperatives.
The poll results show that access to employment is being indirectly facilitated by cooperatives in fields such as housing, healthcare, childcare, and eldercare, which provide women with affordable and accessible services that enable them to work.
Women’s opportunity to participate in governance highly important
About two thirds of survey respondents felt that women’s opportunity to participate in governance and management is a highly important feature of co-operatives.
While 50 per cent of respondents felt that member education and training were vital for cooperatives, about the same number indicated that in the co-operatives they were most familiar with, there are never training sessions relevant to women’s empowerment and gender equality.
Data gathered from the respondents revealed there seemed to be growing attention to gender issues, movement of women into leadership roles, and the increasing development of women owned cooperatives.
In Europe and North America this was noted to be the case within the financial and social co-operatives specifically, while progress in the agricultural sector was particularly observed within Africa, Latin America, and India.