Diana Dovgan, Secretary General of CECOP, highlighted the empowerment potential of cooperatives and provided valuable insights from the CECOP network in a recent discussion “Empowering Women through Cooperatives”, which was organized by the Ministry of Family and Social Services of Turkey, and the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Turkey to the United Nations, as a side event of the 66th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Other speakers of the event included Derya Yanik, the Minister of Family and Social Services of Turkey; Elena Bonetti, Minister for Equal Opportunities and the Family of Italy; Siti Azizah, Deputy Minister for Entrepreneurship, Ministry of SMEs of Indonesia; Simel Esim, Cooperatives Programme Manager at the ILO; Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist at the FAO; and Nurten Öztürk, Chair of Women Entrepreneurs Board of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey. The discussion was moderated by Alia El Yassir, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia of the UN WOMEN.

There was a broad consensus in the discussion that cooperatives do play a major role in women’s empowerment. In the words of Ismahane Elouafi, they help to make sure that no one, including women, is left behind, and are based on values which support empowerment and inclusion. Derya Yanik mentioned that cooperatives are a powerful tool to amplify women’s voices, agency and leadership, and to build resilience. They are based on solidarity, knowledge and experience sharing, and represent an innovative and reliable business model. Siti Azizah pointed out that women’s cooperatives also help meet social needs, increase welfare and develop rural economies, and that supporting them constitutes a part of the Indonesian government’s strategy to promote the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Diana Dovgan in her intervention highlighted the role of cooperatives in providing decent employment and ensuring work-life balance, offering work to disadvantaged groups which are usually excluded from the labor market, reducing the burden on women through providing care services to the community, and practicing democracy at the workplace. 

When a woman is worker-member of a coop, she is empowered not just because she works in the cooperative and gets an income. The fact that she co-owns the enterprise and the means of production, and participates in the decision-making, makes all the difference.” Diana Dovgan, CECOP Secretary General.

The speakers highlighted multiple initiatives that are currently underway to support cooperatives. Turkey, for instance, has adopted a new law which abolishes registration fees for women’s cooperatives, and has launched a new project on women’s empowerment through cooperatives, which includes trainings on legal issues, women’s empowerment, product development support, accounting, branding and other relevant topics; scientific and technical studies; and research on good practices and innovation. The Indonesian government is focusing on transforming savings and loan cooperatives to focus on real sector cooperatives in order to focus on economy of scale and increase investment; technology transformation to increase value added of local resources and products; and transforming multi-sector cooperatives to increase production lines and enhance market connectivity.

Simel Esim highlighted that the ILO has recognized the importance of cooperatives since its inception and since the adoption of its Promotion of Cooperatives Recommendation in 2002, it has provided support to more than 115 countries to reform and develop their policies and legislation concerning cooperatives.

More needs to be done to promote women’s empowerment through cooperatives. Alia El Yassir and Ismahane Elouafi pointed out the need to tackle structural inequalities existing in wider societies. Elena Bonetti stressed that it is imperative to grant better support to women’s cooperatives by strengthening their sustainability, institutional capacity, and visibility, and highlighted the challenges posed by the climate change. According to Simel Esim, it is necessary to improve women’s participation in management of cooperatives through measures such as leadership training and affirmative action; to offer tailored support by the local and national authorities, especially in rural and disadvantaged areas; to ensure that cooperatives have access to finance; and to introduce legal provisions for worker and social cooperatives that can help encourage women’s participation. Nurten Öztürk also pointed out the importance of support with branding and marketing, exports, and attracting young people to cooperatives. Additionally, as Ismahane Elouafi noted, it is important that policies are not only adopted but also enforced.

Diana Dovgan also pointed out the need for improved data collection on women in cooperatives, and for improved legislation on such issues as discrimination, gender pay gap, work-life balance, and more equally shared responsibilities, for instance for parental leave.

Some insights from the CECOP network on women and cooperatives:

  • For many years, CECOP members have been committed and active in many ways to promote women’s employment and entrepreneurship through cooperatives, by implementing specific programs, funds, and campaigns.
  • Over the last years, specific attention is paid to discrimination and violence that women could face inside cooperatives. 10 years ago, COCETA (Spain) has created Gender Equality Plans to guide cooperatives on how to prevent discrimination and gender-based violence at the workplace.
  • In Italy and Spain, the percentage of managerial positions held by women in cooperatives providing care is higher than in non-cooperative care providers.This is important, given that generally in the EU, 80% of care workers are women, while the majority of the structures are managed by men.
  • In Portugal, the percentage of women working in managerial positions in cooperatives (7,8%) is significantly higher than in social economy as a whole (6.9%), and in the national economy (2.3%)
  • 76% of Portuguese cooperatives have adopted policies on equal pay for men and women.
  • The example of French cooperative Quotas shows that an improved work-life balance offered by this coop has resulted in a 30% increase in turnover and a 15% increase in profits.
  • In Spain, 97% of workers use non-sexist language on a regular basis within the cooperative, a higher percentage than in other legal forms of the social and solidarity economy.


Watch the recording here.