What Women Want

Participants with the gender treeI didn’t need to shock myself with an electric hairdryer like the character Nick Marshall (played by Mel Gibson) in the movie, What Women Want, to know what women in co-operatives want. I got to hear about it at the Tagaytay+20 Third Women Conference on Status of Women in Cooperatives in the Philippines. The conference was held to mark 20 years since the first conference in 1997 and 10 years after the second in 2006. The three-day conference was filled with engaging presentations, stimulating panel discussions, absorbing tea-break conversations, and inspiring field visits. Of special note were two panels, one with youth participants and the other with men (take away – gender[1] sensitization is not just women explaining women/men to men).


Let’s start with what women don’t want. Not words, not sympathy, not hand outs, not quotas, not being stereotyped, not being sidelined. So what do they want? Level playing field, accountability, being counted, provided opportunity, being encouraged, and being recognized (as individuals and not just mother, wife, sister, daughter). Sounds fair enough to me.


Women in cooperatives want a level playing field. The statistics is glaring. According to the ILO-ICA Study – Achieving Gender Equality: The Cooperative Way: women account for over 50 per cent of membership and over 50 per cent of the clientele; but occupy way less than 50% of the co-operative board and management positions. Women only cooperatives have produced visionary leaders and successful businesses. Why then are women not so prominent in mixed (men and women) cooperatives? It’s not that they are not capable. Women like Ifat Rayisi from Iran who heads the National Bee-keeping Union spread over 22 provincial unions and caters to 73,500 beekeepers across the nation abound. Her impassioned plea, from a country coming out of sanctions, we are capable and up to the challenge. All we ask is don’t rule us out on account of our gender.


The common view from co-operatives is that, we don’t discriminate, we give women all the opportunity. This was not good enough for the women at the conference. They said, prove it! Let’s have more accountability from board and senior management. We have a ready model to emulate from the Philippines where cooperatives have to submit a gender report to their board and to their regulatory authority showing how they have fared. How about all co-operatives committing to it?


Make us count! The refrain at the conference was, “If we are not counted, then we are not seen and not heard.” The experience in data collection for the ICA-AP second data study (the draft findings were presented at the conference) made this very glaring – In terms of the status of data collection and cases, while recommendations of Tagaytay are being carried out for gender disaggregated data by a few cooperatives, the lacunae is wide open when the majority of countries are considered. The Study also found that, when co-operatives keep track of how women fared, they were found to be more gender sensitive in approach and programming. Dr. Nandini Azad author of the Second data study observed, “Women representation at higher reaches is still not significant; however, the trends and emerging issues indicate new threshold of change.” Mercedes Castillo from the Philippines Cooperative Development Authority said, “In 1997 women participation in board was 10%; today it is 40%. However, we need to examine quality in decision making.” Kanako Miyazawa, speaking on behalf of Masako Shimbo, chair of the ICA-AP Women Committee pointed out that the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requires companies to submit a report of how they have promoted women (some numbers being tracked – ratio of women, comparison of working years, ratio of women in management….). If the Japanese government can, why not cooperatives?


Overcome stereotype. The women at the conference wanted to get over hearing how compassionate they were as mothers; how noble as wives; and how obedient as sisters and daughters. All fine; but how about recognizing us for what we bring and do? How about able co-operative leader, capable business woman, sound manager….? Don’t worry, they said, “We will continue our role as mother, wife, daughter, sister…even though they are unpaid and unrecognized!”


Educate us – there is no budget when it comes to women attending trainings. Board members and directors (largely men) have no problem accessing funds when it comes to attending meetings and seminars abroad. A participant remarked, “In fact, you see the same faces at all trainings; it does not matter whether the training if for consumer or trade or any other. Imagine what a jack-of-all my master is!” Cheeky comments apart, this is a serious issue. Lack of budget seems to be the reason for keeping women away from trainings and seminar. Coming back to the stereotype, if women are care givers; imagine how much they would give to cooperatives if they were properly trained? Ms. Elena Limocon, General Manager of Lamac MPC and Vice Chair of the ICA-AP Women Committee said her cooperative makes it a point to regularly send women to international conferences and encourages them as resource persons to share their cooperative best practices with others. Way to go!


Encourage us to contest – ICA took 114 years to elect it’s first woman President, Pauline Green and just a day to elect it’s second woman President, Monique Leroux. This was greeted with a resounding applause during my presentation. But, this needs to get down to all levels of cooperatives. Men are often quoted as saying, “women don’t come forward and contest for elections. But, women at the conference felt otherwise. There are impediments placed even before nomination. Encourage us, let us know you will fully support us; see what difference this makes.


Facilities at work. One of the men at the men panel discussion remarked, “We provide our women with nursery and day care.” A participant during the tea-break told me: It’s good they provide such facility! I am going to ask my board the same. But, why not say, we provide our employees with nursery and day care facility? Men would then bring their children to the facility and allow their wives to work? How about it?


Start-us up – Luzviminda Villanueva from the Philippine Commission on Women remarked, “Women in co-operatives – they save, they avail of credit to support individual livelihood or small enterprises. However, are they succeeding? Are they growing their business?   Think of the potential – growing women in micro enterprises, creating more jobs in communities, bringing more children to schools, better homes, healthy families. Think yes, but act more. Pacita Juan founder of Echostore (http://www.echostore.ph/) provided a direction in her keynote – “cooperatives are instrumental in doing the institution and capacity building. Cooperation is key: The O in ECHO is for organization. We complement each other in helping empower entrepreneurs and cooperatives.”


It was thrilling to see Cielo Garrido, CEO San Dionisio Credit and Teepee Gile from RedRoot Artists Cooperatives (http://www.redroot.coop/) take stage. Cielo spoke about the challenges of being a woman and young CEO in a long-standing cooperative. Teepee inspired the audience with her journey from one of the poorest regions of Philippines to starting her own cooperative business. Some of the milestones she read out, from one full time employee to 15 full time employees; from one computer to diversified equipment; from below minimum wage to competitive wages; from hundred thousand annual gross sales to multimillion annual gross sales. Both had these words of advice to the young (and old) – accept limitations, build passion from the ground up, understand own co-operative and co-operative movement, use the co-operative principles as a guide, always try new things, spread new ideas, cultivate and innovate; always make something that will make you and those around you proud.


“Character” is one way to describe Audie Samson or as his name card states, call me Dudz! I feel a more appropriate label would be “gender evangelist.’ Dudz talked about the need for men to talk to men as almost all gender sensitization trainings were a group of women explaining women/men to men. Almost all gender issues are explained from a woman’s perspective, even if we say that both women and men are victims. The widespread acceptance of traditional gender roles has meant that, women

have been devalued for what they do, and men have been devalued for who they are. This needs to change.


My article is replete with examples from the Philippines; not because the conference was held there. In a country where cooperative is a religion; gender equality is held at a higher pedestal. Every cooperative member wanting to make gender a priority should make a pilgrimage to the Philippines. In the process you will learn to make a few dance moves too (this can be a chapter in itself)!


I did not realize I would end my article on What Women Want with a quote made by a man on What we should want! Mr. Moosavi from Iran to a resounding applause quoted his translated version of lines from Khalil Gibran:


Women try to be equal with men.

What a futile and vain effort is equality with men!

Equality with men who have dragged the world into chaos and war?

It should not be the case.

Should think in another way that: perhaps, men try to be equal with women

Equal with women who sleep all night with the dream of peace in war-torn history!



The comments expressed are in an individual capacity; but commitment to gender are both in an individual and organizational capacity

[1]The Cooperative Principle Guidance note:  In this 21st century the binary concept of sex and gender as singularly male or female is no longer sufficient to reflect the gender realities of all people. Gender is not just about men and women. It is about how people identify themselves and includes people who are transgender or have chosen gender re-assignment. The 1st Principle of non discrimination on grounds of gender extends to all persons.

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