Cooperatives stand together to end violence against women and girls

30 Nov 2022

The ICA’s Gender Equality Committee marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November by hosting a webinar to show how cooperatives are tackling gender-based violence in their communities.

Over 65 participants from around the world attended the online event, which aimed to support the UN’s campaign “UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls”.

Xiomara Nuñez de Céspedes, Chair of ICA’s GEC, explained how the United Nations General Assembly had designated 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to commemorate the 1960 assassination of the three Mirabal sisters, whose lives were taken at the order of then Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. 

Violence and harassment are a widespread phenomenon in all countries, affecting everyone, but some groups are more at risk, added Paz Arancibia Román, ILO Gender Specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean.

She revealed that the ILO will be launching a study measuring the impact in economic terms of violence and harassment in the world. She referred to the ILO’s Convention 190 and Recommendation 206 on Violence and Harassment, the first international labour standards to provide a common framework to prevent, remedy and eliminate violence and harassment in the world of work, including gender-based violence and harassment.

Priti Patel from the Gujarat Mahila Credit Cooperative in India shared her organisation’s experience around conflict resolution. She explained that despite having exclusive rights, such as the right to equal pay, the right against workplace harassment, the right against domestic violence or the right to free legal aid, violence against women and girls persists in India.

She added that issues leading to acts of violence against women include socio cultural conflicts, conditioning and stereotyping of gender roles and responsibilities, poverty and lack of education. To address some of these, the cooperative provides socio-economic support to members and provides a dispute resolution service.  

Prof. Esther Gicheru, Chair of the ICA-Africa GEC, shared case studies of cooperatives that deal with violence against women and girls in the region. African women experience gender-based violence, which stems from gender specific barriers to land ownership, inheritance rights, and access to finance, she explained. 

Examples include the Women of Liberia Peace Network helping 45 vulnerable and 65 war-affected women from the Maimu Salala district of Liberia to form agri cooperatives increasing their earning capacity, a project supported by the Cooperative Development Agency of Liberia. Similarly, in Mozambique, a project by Institute of Research, Advocacy and Citizenship contributed towards the economic empowerment of 2,197 rural women by organising them into 83 cooperatives.

Getting women organised around their work empowers them to not only deal with issues around their work but also issues around their households and society at large, explained Prof. Esther Gicheru. She added that all cooperative activities should have a gender perspective, including the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of work, as well as lessons learnt from results. 

María Eugenia Pérez Zea, Vice-Chair of ICA’s GEC, also highlighted the work of cooperatives and the ICA Gender Equality Committee to raise awareness about gender based violence by hosting webinars, organising marches and interacting with public authorities and governments to implement legislation, and measures to punish aggressors, among others.

Chitose Arai, Chair of the ICA Asia-Pacific Women’s Committee, highlighted that conflicts and violence against women were on the rise in many countries. In January 2022, the ICA Gender Equality Committee for the Asia-Pacific region submitted a recommendation to the ICA Identity Committee to include peace and non-violence as cooperative values. Cooperatives across the region run various programmes to empower women. For example, the PEKKA Foundation in Indonesia runs a legal empowerment program for members of cooperatives, enabling women who experience violence to access legal services. Similarly, Coop Mirai, the largest consumer cooperative in Japan, supported fundraising efforts for women in the Fukushima area who were affected by Covid-19, including those who were victims of domestic violence.

Katia De Luca, Chair of the Cooperatives Europe’s Gender Equality Working Group, also shared good practices in Europe, including the Gender Equality Charter adopted by Cooperative Europe in 2020. The document, approved by the Cooperative Europe General Assembly, is a commitment by Cooperatives Europe to strengthen its activities in closing the gender gap as well as a call to its members to implement the 10 commitments in their respective organisations.

In Turkey women’s cooperatives are being set up with the support of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation to empower refugees while in Italy Legacoop is running campaigns to raise awareness about gender-based violence and harassment.

Alessandra Brogliatto, ICA-GEC Executive Committee member, described an initiative launched by Italian retail cooperatives called ‘Coop says No to violence’ and the campaign ‘Set the Tone’ - from SSE organisations in Italy, Belgium, Poland, Slovenia and Spain - which aimed to influence mentality and daily behaviours of employees and employers towards gender stereotypes and sexual harassment.

The webinar can be watched in English here and in Spanish here