Engendering SAARC Cooperatives

The President, Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW), Dr.Nandini Azad addressed the pioneer Vaikunth Mehta Institute of Cooperative Management, Pune on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2017 and highlighted the global recognition of gender equity as a key to the cooperative movement. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) state that gender equality is a fundamental right for a peaceful world towards growth and global poverty reduction. International Labor Organization (ILO) Recommendation no. 193 (7.3) cites, “Special consideration should be given to increasing women’s participation in the cooperative movement at all levels, particularly at management and leadership levels.” The Indian Parliament passed the crucial Constitution (111 Amendment) bill granting every Indian citizen the right to form a cooperative voluntarily as a human right insisting on autonomy and democracy.

Highlights of Asian Countries -Philippines is the first country to adopt a cooperative branding strategy, i.e., Finance Organizations Achieving Certified Credit Union Standards (FOCCUS) which focuses on poor rural women and their access to financial services. The iCOOP Korea has 73 primary cooperative committees consisting of 1,200 women in the field of food safety, environment, childcare, education and agricultural support across the country. The Japanese Consumer Cooperative policy is enacted in September 2015. Companies with or more than 301 employees are mandated to make an action plan to promote women. All-China Federation of Supply and Marketing Cooperatives’ women staff accounts for 40 percent. The leadership position and the directors are women too.

The Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW) is a social movement of one million women across three southern states of India – Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh covering 3,840 villages and 2,426. It’s members are street vendors, pavement hawkers, handloom weavers, coir and handicraft workers, fisher women, daily wagers and micro entrepreneurs. The microfinance program of ICNW has, so far, reached out to over 500,000 entrepreneurs with approximately Rs. 3,000 million accomplishing about 99.26 percent recovery rate in the urban slums and rural areas.

Jharkhand Programs
Building Indigenous Women’s Agency to Combat Gender Based Violence

Jharkhand is one of the most backward states in India with low human development indices, due to predominantly high indigenous population with low socio-economic indices led by poverty. The unserved areas of indigenous communities have been facing challenges from vested interests and denial of rights. 45 percent of total indigenous Santhali population (61,59,818) of India reside in the state of Jharkhand. The state of Jharkhand is considered to be ‘High Risk’ with systematic exclusion, social disintegration, Gender based violence particularly among indigenous Santhali women.

The Independent Commission for People’s Rights and Development (ICPRD) has been engaged with Santhali women’s groups in Jharkhand since 1998 to strengthen, support, raise funds, and build their capacity. Despite extreme challenges and difficult field conditions, ICPRD traveled regularly in remote districts to study the ground reality like patriarchal society, burden of poverty, exclusion due to convergence of class, caste, gender that fell on women. Further witch hunting, Trafficking, Child Marriage and wife beating we are also major problems scarce access to resources - land, credit, training for women was stark. Exploitative money lenders were the only credit source available, infrastructure and communication facilities were poor, literacy (even 5%) with low levels skills and awareness hampered them from availing rights.

ICPRD’s current project ‘Building Indigenous Women’s Institutions to Combat Development Denial’ aims at facilitating an inclusive development rights of the Santhali women at the policy and program levels based on their cosmic worldview. It focuses on developing grassroots women’s power through empowered women’s groups, so as to make them visible, bargain with sources of power to counter development denial. Also to access basic services, healthcare, financial services, housing - those denied to them.

ICPRD along with its partner organizations facilitated Santhali women identifying 30 villages in three districts - Dumka, Godda and Jamtara based on low literacy, lack of infrastructure like water, electricity, roads, schools, healthcare facilities etc. Mobilization, Group Building and identification of majority of groups were undertaken.

Voices of the indigenous Santhali women were heard in terms of the hurdles to basic living and gender inequity that they face regularly in family/ community/ society particularly harassment and violence in several ways. Several awareness meetings and discussions were conducted in Santhali language along with the use of pictorial nuances. Women through their cosmic world view discussed, limitations and challenges.Provided /shared with information about the necessity of the group formation, rules, holding regular meetings, and expressed solidarity on entitlement and social issues to advocate and approach male village heads and pressurize government i.e. demand generate to access various schemes. In some cases, petition member of legislatures too. The Santhali Convention that was held took a VOW to root out witch hunting/trafficking in area that was rampat.

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