What Women Want

I 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...

I 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. As a man, I got to hear about it at the Tagaytay+20 Third Women Conference on the Status of Women in Co-operatives, held in the Philippines.

Let’s start with what women don’t want. Not words, not sympathy, not handouts, not quotas, not being stereotyped, not being sidelined. So what do they want? Level playing fields, accountability, being counted, provided opportunity, being encouraged, and being recognised as individuals

The common view from co-ops is that we don’t discriminate, that we give women plenty of opportunities. This was not good enough for the women at the conference. They said ‘prove it!’ Let’s have more accountability from boards and senior management.

Balu Iyer
Balu Iyer

In the Philippines we have a ready and replicable model where co-ops have to submit a gender report to their board and to their regulatory authority showing how they have fared. And Kanako Miyazawa, speaking on behalf of Masako Shimbo, chair of the International Co-operative Alliance Asia-Pacific Women Committee, pointed out that in Japan, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requires companies to submit a report of how they have promoted women. If Japan can do this, why not co-ops?

The women at the conference also wanted to stop hearing how compassionate they were as mothers and how noble as wives and instead be recognised for what they bring as leaders and managers and capable businesswomen. Ifat Rayisi, from Iran, heads the National Bee-keeping Union, spread over 22 provincial unions and serving 73,500 beekeepers. Her impassioned plea, from a country coming out of sanctions, was: “We are capable – and we up to the challenge. Don’t rule us out on account of our gender.”

The International Co-operative Alliance took 114 years to elect its first woman president, Pauline Green – and just a day to elect its second , Monique Leroux. This needs to get down to all levels of co-operatives. Men are often quoted as saying, “women don’t come forward and contest for elections”.

International Women's Day
International Women’s Day

But women at the conference felt otherwise. There are impediments placed even before nomination, they said. Encourage us, let us know you will fully support us; see what difference this makes.

The Philippines has some wonderful examples of gender parity; not just because the conference was held there, but because in a country where co- operatives are almost a religion, gender equality is held on a higher pedestal. Every co-operative member wanting to make gender a priority should make a pilgrimage to the Philippines.

I did not realize I would end my piece on What Women Want with a quote made by a man at the conference on what men should want! Mr Moosavi from Iran, to 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!

We 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.

  • You can find all of our coverage of International Women’s Day 2016 here.
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