ILO sends a video message to parallel event at UNCSW67 on women’s leadership in cooperatives

Organized by the Working Women’s Forum - Indian Cooperative Network for Women (WWF-ICNW), the event on “Innovating Networks for Women’s Cooperative Leadership through Capacity Building” took place on 14th March 2023 during the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women

News | 16 March 2023
The virtual event focused on the value of women’s networks to increase their representation among leadership of cooperatives. A wide range of speakers joined Dr. Nandini Azad, President, WWF-ICNW to share their different institutional perspectives on women’s participation in cooperatives, sectoral and regional trends and priorities to ensure better representation at the leadership level. The Working Women’s Forum (WWF) (India) –is an organization supporting 620,000 poor women as members in four southern states of India (Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka & Telangana). It supports saving and credit groups through loans and training. Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW) works in supporting financial and producer cooperatives of poor women.

Ms. Simel Esim, Head, Cooperatives Unit at the ILO was among the speakers along with, Mr. Vivek Rai, Deputy Director of the Civil Society Division, UN Women, Ms. Katrina Sarah Milne, Vice President, World Farmers Organization (WFO), Mr. Andreas Kappes, Secretary General, International Raiffeisen Union (IRU), Ms. Milagro Matus, Deputy Program Manager, Agricultural and Agro Industrial Development, CARICOM Secretariat, Ms. Ann-Charlott Folkesson, Chairman of the Board, We Effect, Ms. Ghada Ahmadein, Arab Network for Environment and Development (READ), and Ms. Jennifer Phillips, Lead of InsuResilience Centre of Excellence on Gender Smart Solutions.

The speakers reflected on the role cooperatives play in advancing women’s economic participation by providing a structure that allows for pooling of resources that produce and market goods and services. They underlined that cooperatives can also provide affordable and accessible services such as housing, finance, and a range of care services.

They noted that through cooperatives women can also gain negotiation power in engaging with public authorities and other private sector institutions. Through democratic governance, cooperatives can serve as spaces where women can engage in decision-making and power sharing. Cooperatives often promote education and training of their members as a key tool for the success of their businesses. Women who work or participate in cooperatives can benefit from opportunities for professional development, skill training, and leadership building. The economic benefits of cooperatives may further contribute to improvements in other areas of women’s lives. Women who are engaged in cooperatives may be better positioned to address personal and communal needs such as freedom from violence and environmental protection.

Ms Esim noted that while cooperatives may be doing better than their non- cooperative counterparts on women leadership there is not an even performance across sectors. She gave the example of cooperatives in social, education, health, care sectors which tend to have women as majority of founders, members, users, workers, and leaders. When it comes to agriculture, she added, although women may be majority of contributing family workers, they are in minority in membership and very few in the leadership ranks.

She highlighted how in contexts where social and cultural norms may restrict women’s engagement in the public sphere, emergence of women-only cooperatives is observed. She shared the growth strategies that can be used by women-only cooperatives including horizontal, vertical and transversal growth. Horizontal growth typically involves setting up networks, franchises or subsidiaries, she noted. While vertical growth is more formal and involves setting up secondary and tertiary structures such as unions and federations to provide services, from education and financing to policy advocacy, she added. Transversal growth entails infusing values and principles of cooperation, mutuality, and solidarity into the local economy through community-based organizations, local governments, research institutions, cooperative banks and training organizations, she concluded.

A recording of Ms. Esim’s video message can be accessed here.