What next for women in the co-operative movement?

In 2011 the Co-operative Women’s Challenge was launched as a cross-movement initiative to improve gender equality. From their very beginnings, co-operatives led the way in campaigning for gender equality – from voting...

In 2011 the Co-operative Women’s Challenge was launched as a cross-movement initiative to improve gender equality. From their very beginnings, co-operatives led the way in campaigning for gender equality – from voting rights and divorce law reform to maternity benefits and minimum wage – and the Challenge continued that work by setting out a series of aims. By 2020, it challenged the movement to achieve:

  1. Fair gender representation in the democratic structures of co-operatives
  2. More women in senior management roles
  3. A wider campaign for gender equality across the economy and society.

Five years on, Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative College revisited the Challenge, and conducted research into what being a member of a co-operative means to women today. Interviews with 19 women explored opinions on what can be done to support women’s development, engagement, empowerment and leadership in co-operatives.

“The aim of the work is to keep up positive momentum and to show it is still relevant,” said Natalie Bradbury, who conducted the research. “It also aims to encourage people to think about where they or their co-op is in relation to the Women’s Challenge, to keep people talking about gender equality in the co-operative movement and society, and to support people in having a voice in the Women’s Challenge going forward.”

Now, as part of the 2016 Co-operative Congress, Co-operative News is hosting an open debate around gender equity at 2.30pm on Friday, 17 June, in the Major Hall at Unity Works, Wakefield.

Working with Co-operatives UK and the College – and on the back of the Co-operative Women’s Guild formally dissolving this month – the discussion will use information from the original Challenge, the new research and discussions taking place on the Women in Co-operatives Facebook Group to look at the issues, the support and the next steps for women in the co-operative movement today.

1. The issues: What are the issues affecting women in the co-operative movement that women would like to see addressed? What are the women-specific issues? What are the co-op specific issues? What are the differences between the issues in worker co-ops / small co-ops / large co-ops?
2. The support: What support networks are there in place for co-operative women? What should there be? What best practice examples are there from inside / outside the movement? How can women encourage other women to fulfil their potential?
3. The change / next steps: How can we create / develop / apply this support? Which organisations can help with this – and how?

The discussions will be kickstarted by a panel of co-operative women who will share their own ideas and experiences.

  • Natalie Bradbury is the information co-ordinator at the Co-operative College.
  • Shaherazad Umbreen is the head of customer and marketing at Central England Co-operative and “Shoe.E.O” of Shoes by Shaherazad, “which is all about women empowering women through education”.
  • Britta Werner is a worker-owner at Unicorn Grocery Workers Co-operative and the vice-chair of Co-operatives UK.
  • Karen Wilkie is deputy general secretary at The Co-operative Party and former president of NUS Wales. She was also the first equal opportunities officer for Derbyshire NALGO (National and Local Government Officers’ Association).

There will also be plenty of opportunity for delegates of all genders to take part in the discussion on the day. The challenges set out in 2011 are still relevant in 2016 – so let’s keep the conversation going.

  • A full report on the event will be published shortly after, but if you can’t make it to Wakefield on the day, please do email your thoughts on any of the above points to [email protected].
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