ILO joins the conversation on women’s empowerment through cooperatives, an Italian perspective

ILO COOP Unit Manager participated in the event on “WomeNpowerment in Coops: Italian cooperatives contributing to the achievement of gender equality in the world” organized on the occasion of the International Women’s Day by the Commission of Women Cooperative Managers of the Italian Confederation of Cooperatives (ConfCooperative) and CooperMondo.

News | 08 March 2018
During the event a practical handbook sharing the experiences of Italian cooperatives on gender equality issues both in Italy and in other parts of the world, “WomeNpowerment in Coops” was launched. The handbook, that is currently available in Italian, with English and Spanish translation under way, contributes to the Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality under the 2030 Agenda. It looks at the historical evolution of gender issues in development cooperation and the engagement of the global cooperative movement in general, and the Italian cooperatives in particular.

The first panel of the event focused on the progress of gender equality issues in the context of the Italian cooperative movement, with speaker contributions on meaningful career development and mentorship, opportunities for growth into leadership and managerial positions, work life balance, and the importance of encouraging diversity.

In the second panel women cooperative leaders shared their experiences working in fisheries, agricultural and social cooperatives in Italy. Furthermore, the international development cooperation experience of Italian cooperatives in advancing popular finance (Ecuador), food security (Mozambique), cooperative to cooperative trade (Togo) and social inclusion (Brazil) were discussed.

In the third and final panel, the ILO COOP Unit Manager, Simel Esim, noted that cooperative enterprises can play a role in contributing to achieving the economic and social empowerment of women. She mentioned that there are inspiring experiences from around the world of women using the cooperative business model to support themselves, their households and their communities. She shared examples of ILO development cooperation projects undertaken with funding from Italian cooperation and in engagement with Italian cooperatives.

Among the examples she provided was the Mekelle Prison Project in Ethiopia, funded by Italian government, which worked to create sustainable livelihood opportunities for women and youth through cooperatives, financial services and skills development. Ms Esim also mentioned how the ILO and the Italian cooperative movement collaborate in supporting cooperative partners, to strengthen their capacities. This is the case for example of the Union of Cooperative Associations for Saving and Credit (UCASC) in the occupied Palestinian territory, where women members consist the majority of all members. She also mentioned how other countries in the world have made use of the Italian experience in providing an enabling environment for cooperative enterprises, as demonstrated in the case of the law on social cooperatives and the Marcora law for enterprise restructuring through worker cooperatives.

During the ensuing discussion there was agreement to explore the opportunities for collaboration in specific country settings (e.g. Colombia, Tunisia, Sri Lanka) and on issues such as cooperative to cooperative trade.