Opinion: Built on a foundation of gender equality, co-ops can help achieve the 5th Sustainable Development Goal

Co-ops provide an equal voice for all members, like Abelina who is diversifying Cooperativa Café Timor’s crops by adding cassava to her farm, with support from NCBA CLUSA’s USDA-funded project in East Timor.

“Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change” was the slogan for last week’s International Women’s Day. Cooperators around the world are calling out to show how cooperatives are an entrepreneurial and innovative model that builds on a foundation of gender equality.

With one of our cooperative principles being open membership, gender equality has always been a key feature of the cooperative movement. The cooperative movement is leading the way in terms of innovation, because innovation comes from people—and cooperatives—by placing the onus on members themselves to resolve their needs and aspirations and constantly adapt to the demands of a continually-evolving society.

The March 8 UN observance day is an opportunity to acknowledge women’s contributions to the development of societies and the world, through both paid and unpaid work. In different countries around the world, the Gender Equality Committee of the ICA is showing how cooperatives are supporting women in work-life balance, providing quality and long-term employment.

It is essential that we build inclusive, participatory and integral processes within our governments to create state policy aimed at achieving equality across all sectors through innovative strategies in which women play a defining role in the construction of the country.

We call for the advancement of a solidarity-based economy, as a way out of issues of social disparity, achievable thanks to its values and essence of democratic participation, inclusion, the common good and equality.

This month, we also want to remember the role of cooperatives providing job opportunities and social inclusion for women victims of violence. It is our job to put an end to the trafficking of women and girls, female genital mutilation, child marriage, the gender pay gap, femicide, sexual abuse, and workplace harassment.

This is a task for everyone, not only women. Once we are able to offer decent and inclusive education, equal justice, and reject the impunity of those who have committed violence and abuse against women, we will eliminate all acts of violence, hunger and poverty by investing in projects promoting equality.

We now have the resources to get us closer to, more connected with, and better informed about what is happening in the world. We can draw on globalization and the relationships we have between countries to think about equality.

We need to confront challenges and generate cross-cutting changes through innovation, considering how societies are transforming. We see that cooperatives can help in this sense.

The cooperative model is particularly well-suited to resolving these challenges because it has the capacity to fully educate the various actors involved in activities through collective and democratic control.

We have the arduous task of contributing to, and joining, the construction of an ideal future, one that is better for all women and girls. Let us work to make the 5th Sustainable Development Goal, “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls,” a reality!

—María Eugenia Pérez Zea is chair of the International Co-operative Alliance’s Gender Equality Committee

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