In honor of International Women’s Day, NCBA CLUSA celebrates women cooperative leaders around the world and highlights the gender work of our Creating an Environment for Cooperative Expansion (CECE) project, funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Development Program (CDP).
The CECE project provides technical assistance to over 60 cooperatives and cooperative unions in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Peru, and Guatemala through tailored coaching, trainings, learning exchanges, and other activities. A key component of this work is ensuring that women are included in cooperative activities and governance, empowered to take on leadership roles, and valued for their contributions.
The CECE project conducted a gender analysis that was highlighted as part of NCBA CLUSA’s 2021 International Women’s Day celebrations. Since then, the CECE project has continued and embarked on new activities to promote gender equity in cooperatives.
Some activities, such as the women’s cooperative membership campaign in Kenya, have focused on increasing women’s membership in cooperatives, educating women and youth on the role cooperatives can play in improving women’s livelihoods, and educating cooperative leaders and members on the importance of women’s inclusion.
Other CECE activities have focused on supporting women to start their own cooperatives, such as the new indigenous women’s recycling cooperative in Guatemala and Dulce Esperanza, a group of incarcerated women in Peru who want to turn their chocolate business into a cooperative.
Another inroad for facilitating greater inclusion of women in cooperatives is through gender committees. After participating in gender sensitization meetings led by NCBA CLUSA’s CECE Madagascar team, ROVA Dairy Cooperative Union decided to start a gender committee made up of women from its primary cooperative members to increase women’s membership, participation, and leadership at the union and primary cooperative levels, understanding that their cooperative businesses will be strengthened through increased women’s engagement. The team has spent considerable time supporting ROVA in these efforts because these positive changes and mindset shifts can cascade down to member cooperatives. ROVA’s general assembly approved eight women from member cooperatives to constitute the gender committee, and they have established a charter and ambitious goals for the next three years. This includes 1) 30% women’s participation in the primary cooperatives in 2022; 2) 50% at the level of the General Assembly and the Union Supervisory Committee in 2022; and 3) 40% women’s participation on the Board of Directors in 2024. Activities designed to help achieve these targets have been incorporated into ROVA’s coaching plan for the year.
One of the key barriers to women’s entry and participation in cooperatives is access to finance and lack of assets. For example, in Kenya, many cooperatives set stringent requirements for membership and participation in leadership roles that inhibit women from joining or running for a board position. Given these challenges, the CECE project helped facilitate meetings between women cooperative leaders in Meru County and Capital SACCO to come up with solutions. Now with Capital SACCO’s new CASA DADA financial literacy and lending program for women in place, more women are building savings and accessing loans.
Another challenge is finding ways to encourage youth participation in cooperatives. In Peru, NCBA CLUSA’s Coop Marketing School innovation has become a vehicle for engaging young people by harnessing their creativity, skills and interests in social media and technology. In fact, most program participants are women and youth.
In addition to these and other activities, NCBA CLUSA will soon roll out its new Women’s Inclusion, Empowerment, and Leadership in Cooperatives (WIELCOOP) training program. With support from an Agribusiness Market Ecosystem Alliance (AMEA) Tool Improvement Facility (TIF) grant, the training material is being adapted for a hybrid learning environment.
As underscored by the International Cooperative Alliance Gender Equality Committee in their Statement on International Women’s Day 2022, “Cooperatives, as people-centered economic models – through their values of self-help, equality and equity, and principles of voluntary and open membership and democratic control – are well-placed to address many of the issues that negatively impact women, especially to address the multifaceted issue of poverty and shape women’s wellbeing.” This theme runs through the WIELCOOP training and through NCBA CLUSA’s CECE gender work.