Participation of Men and Women in Cooperatives in Asia Pacific

A pioneering research study was undertaken in 2015 to identify the gender quotient in the cooperatives in Asia Pacific. Entitled “Gender Is More than a Statistic –Status of Women in Co-operatives in the Asia-Pacific Region,’ the study had 28 apex cooperatives as respondents. The sectors represented in the study included agriculture, consumer, credit and savings, fishery, fertilizers, finance and banking, land and land settlement, service and informal sectors.

The study report was developed by the ICPRD Member Secretary Dr.Nandini Azad and presented at the Third Regional Conference on Status of Women in Cooperatives in Asia-Pacific in Philippines in February 2016.

Correlation between Women, Co-operatives and Gender Equality

Investing in women’s empowerment in co-operatives leads to gender equality, economic growth, poverty reduction. Being democratic/voluntary - co-operatives ideal mechanisms for building gender equality but only when women have equal access including to/at decision-making levels. Cooperatives facilitate women’s mobilization for collective bargaining, productive assets (land, labour, training, wages, technology, markets). Millions of women in the region have access to social protection, housing, health and child care, financial services through co-operatives.

Both quantitative and qualitative methods were utilized for the collection of data, best practices/individual cases.

Nineteen out of 26 countries in Asia Pacific represented in the study revealed that while the ratio of women chairpersons increased from 7 percent in 2005 to 10 per cent in 2016, the number of leaders at the top remained low. However, the ratio of women vice chairpersons increased from 18 percent to 23 percent in 2005 and 2016 respectively. Lack of women representation at the top attributed to patriarchal values and lack of education and skills that restricted access to leadership positions.

The main consensus generated among co-operatives is to increase women’s participation at the higher and mainly decision making level. The issues raised were quotas for women, capacity building, increased participation of women in boards, committees etc. New trends, decisions, issues indicated new threshold of change for women. This can be attributed to international awareness, conventions, gender networking in co-operatives and the success of new age women.

Overall Study Recommendations

Mainstream gender analysis in all aspects of cooperatives; Establish “gender equality committees” or cells/units to identify gender-related problems and develop gender awareness trainings; Capacity building; National census/organizations/networks to support in collecting gender disaggregated data; Sensitize cooperative leaders to grasp the complexity of women’s issues; Facilitate women’s income earning capacities and alleviate their work loads; Develop commitment to systematically address gender issues with pro-active coop managers; Partner with cooperatives for actualizing SDGs; Overcome cultural/structural barriers to women; Remove Legal impediments; Adjustment of working conditions to reconcile work and family responsibilities; Gather and share best practices/learned; Track equality indicators such as women’s participation in governance; management membership; asset ownership; and income parity on an on-going basis to ensure accountability; Support cooperatives to face challenges of the open market economy, globalization, and technological change; Recognize cooperatives as a legitimate form of business (e.g. include the co-operative model in educational curricula and entrepreneurship training programs).

Asia Pacific Cooperative Ministers Conference

As Vice Chairperson of the ICA-AP Women’s Committee, she was the privileged to convince the Asia-Pacific Cooperative Ministers’ Conference (APCMC), based on the “Gender is more than a Statistic Study” wherein a Resolution was adopted for 30-50% quota for women in Committees, Councils and other higher level cooperatives structures.

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