As International Women’s Day approaches, we’ve spoken to a number of inspirational women who are leading by example at some prominent co-operatives …
LINDA WARD is a Director of Co-operatives UK.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
To me it means celebrating the achievements of women both past and present, as well as being a day to review how far we have come in the struggle for equality. Girls are often prevented from receiving education in the poorest countries that would best benefit from the economic growth. Remember the Pakistani schoolgirl, Malala Yousafzai, who was shot at aged 15 by the Taliban for speaking out for the right to an education?
Women generally tend to be paid less than their male counterparts and although women make up more than half of the population, we need a lot more female representation in parliament and on boards.
What is your experience as a woman in a co-operative-focused organisation?
My experience as a woman in a co-operative-focused organisation has certainly improved during the last decade.
I first stood for election to my local Area Committee in 2003 and was shocked when I discovered that I had topped the poll – but my first Area Committee meeting was somewhat disappointing. The chair did not welcome me, the rest of the committee were all male, and they made me feel like an outsider with the exception of one member who offered to act as a mentor for me.
The co-operative movement has historically empowered women and co-op societies allowed women equal voting rights almost a century before most governments across the world did, but it still needs to ensure that more women are elected to represent our members – many of whom are female.
What can be done to improve equality within co-operatives?
We need to actively ensure that women are given the opportunity to be fairly represented at all levels within co-operative societies as well as in the wider co-operative movement. I’m a member of the steering group for the Women’s Challenge 2020, a campaign that was originally set up by the Co-operative Group, now led by Co-operatives UK, to do just that.
We have looked at the barriers that women face, but we need to look at ways to overcome them in order to encourage more women to put themselves forward by, for example, standing for election to their co-op’s board and applying for management positions.
This could be done by the introduction of quotas but most of us are against that as we want to be elected on merit.
Or return to the International Women’s Day 2014 collection
Which female co-operators inspire you? Let us know in the comments below.