The Co-operative Group’s and wider Co-operative Movement’s commitment to its worldwide values and principles is unquestionable, but despite this there are still some significant inequalities in respect of women.
Women make up 51 per cent of the population and specific to the Co-operative Group 68 per cent of its membership, but the democratic structures within the Group do not reflect these percentages.
The Co-operative Group and Co-operatives UK have both commissioned research to try to establish what the barriers are to participation and how they can be overcome.
With this is mind, the Group’s national Membership Diversity Working Group, backed by the Group Values and Principles Committee has set itself a target of trying to redress this balance by 2020 and as a result The Co-operative Women’s Challenge 2020 was born.
The Challenge will formally launch at a national conference, ‘Women’s Voices’ which will be hosted by the North Region Membership team and will be held during Co-operatives Fortnight at the Queen’s Hotel Leeds on Saturday, 2nd July.
The event will feature keynote speakers Moira Lees, Secretary, Co-operative Group; Dr Ruth Sealy, Cranfield University; Lynne Franks, SEED — Sustainable Enterprise and Empowerment Dynamics; and Dame Pauline Green, President of the ICA.
Workshops will include Women in Democracy, Global Women’s Movement, Fawcett Society, Co-operative Women’s Guild, Women in the Media and many more, all aimed at finding solutions to some of the challenges ahead through joint action.
This is not to say that co-operative women have been quiescent. From its inception, the Co-operative Women’s Guild was an active force for wider social change, taking a leadership role on a number of issues such as:
• Supporting women’s suffrage
• Working with unions to campaign for equal pay
• Developing initiatives to address poverty
• Campaigning for benefits in relation to women’s health and maternity
Margaret Silcock, Women’s Representative on the Group’s Membership Diversity Working Group, said: “We hope the conference will harness the energy of our active women members throughout the Movement and identify practical ways to address some of the barriers facing women.
“This is only a starting point for the many challenges which lie ahead, but we are confident that in ten years time we will not see women under-represented in our democracies, workplaces or in our campaigns.”
The steering group organising the conference includes representatives from the North Membership team, The Co-operative Women’s Guild, Co-operatives UK, the National Guild of Co-operators, the
Co-operative Party, Regional and National Membership teams and the Membership Diversity Working Group.
• Places for the conference are limited, but to find out more log onto: www.co-operativememberevents.coop.