Women co-operators in Spain help to spread gender equality

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Co-operative News spoke to Lola Sanjuán Jurado, President of Amecoop Andalucia, an association of women co-operators promoting gender equaliy based in southern, and...

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Co-operative News spoke to Lola Sanjuán Jurado, President of Amecoop Andalucia, an association of women co-operators promoting gender equaliy based in southern, and most populous, region in Spain.

How is Amecoop celebrating International Women’s Day?

Amecoop is taking part in various activities throughout Andalusia, particularly in the region’s major cities. We tend to operate within Andalusia.

Jointly with the Federation of Worker Co-operatives of Andalusia (FECTA), we have also published a manifesto in which we stress out that co-operatives offer equal opportunities for men and women. The manifesto is available online.

Is there more gender equality in co-operatives than in other enterprises?

Of course. Co-operatives build an enterprise model in which it is easier or rather more feasible to integrate gender equality than in other enterprises. Equality has been a very important aspect for co-operative eneterprises, ever since the Rochdale Pioneers integrated the notion of equality within co-op values and principles.

In Andalusia the new Co-operative law that was approved at the end of 2011 recognizes the principle of gender equality as a fundamental principle affecting the other principles as well. This is a great step forward for the 23,000 women that work in the local co-operatives.

Compared to other enterprise models, co-operatives enable gender equality in various ways. For example, co-ops offer an equal pay for an equal work, thus the pay gap is lower than in the case of other enterprises. We also offer equal opportunities and training, which improves professional development. There are also more women in leadership positions within co-ops than traditional enterprises. Because members have a word to say in the decision-making, they are able to adapt better to various challenges and they can also balance work life and personal life better.

This however, does not necessarily mean co-ops are free from gender inequalities, but, as explained, this happens at a lower rate than in traditional enterprises. 

What are the most important projects of Amecoop?

Our aim is to build a more equal society, where there is less discrimination. In order to achieve this, we work with the council of Andalusia, town halls, county councils and other entities that can help us promote equal opportunities for women and men in the co-operative environment and society in general. We also work with public or private sector organisations from all over the world.

As founding members of the Social Economy Federation of Businesswomen (FEMPES), we were also present when an agreement was signed between this Federation and the Institute Andalusian Women (IAM), in 2009.

As part of this agreement, we were involved in the programmes IGUALEM 2009-2013 and SERVAEM 2009-2013, managed by IAM and co-financed by the Social European Fund. These programmes are part of Action Pillar 1 on Entrepreneurial education and training to support growth and business creation.

We have also initiated the first training network for the Andalusian women involved in social economy, under the coordination of FEMPES and funded by Andalusia Emprede and The Andalusian Public Foundation. 

International co-operation is also on our agenda; jointly with the Federation of Credit Unions of Honduras and the Social Economy School of Andalusia, we have developed a training scheme called “Strengthening women active in co-operative enterprises”. The aim of this training scheme was to empower women active in co-op enterprises. 

We are also particularly proud to have had the opportunity to put forward an initiative for a new Law of co-operative societies, having appeared before the Economy, Innovation and Science Commission of the Andalusian Parliament.

This new law was approved in December 2012 and we have had an important input in writing and updating the law, putting forward proposals and suggestions from a gender perspective, representing the interests of women co-operators.

What can be done to involve more women in the co-op movement, particularly in leadership positions?

To address the asymmetrical tendency existing in all levels of society we need a complex strategy.

A major problem is the assumption that women are more likely to start a family and thus less likely to be promoted in leadership positions. This issue, along with other organisational factors such as the fact that promotion depends sometimes on connections established outside the working environment or after working hours does not provide the same level of access to leading positions. 

To address this problem we need to call for joint responsibility of both the private and the public sector. At entrepreneurial level, it is important to have the support of women that can serve as an example. Leadership training courses, formal or informal, are an extremely efficient tool in leadership formation.  Mentoring and coaching are a key part of leadership.

This is why Amecoop created last year the first network of entrepreneurial training for women involved in social economy. Though this scheme entrepreneurs with more than five years experience in the market created a network that would advice and support other entrepreneurs seeking to consolidate or grow their enterprise. This scheme helped them to come up with new strategies.

Has the International Year of Co-operatives helped to increase awareness of gender equality?

Of course. The global attention that the International Year of Co-operatives has received made it possible for more people to find out about co-operatives values and principles. These values also include gender equality and fairness and this makes co-operatives a more equal and accessible enterprise model for women. The efforts made by organisations has been extremely relevant; they encouraged co-operators to spread this enterprise model, raising awareness over the advantages it brings for women, whilst making it visible that we represent 50 per cent of the co-operative movement.

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