A Question of Equality

Co-operatives, as people-centred organisations, are leading the fight for a more equal world through empowering individuals and communities often marginalised by wider society.  By providing member-led spaces for...

Co-operatives, as people-centred organisations, are leading the fight for a more equal world through empowering individuals and communities often marginalised by wider society. 

By providing member-led spaces for discussions, support and training, individuals and communities are using the co-op model to encourage equality, in terms of equal recognition (regardless of sexuality, disability, ethnicity or gender) or equal access to education, services and opportunities. Very often, the two go hand in hand.

In Wales, Citizen Directed Co-operatives Cymru (CDCC) is a new project enabling disabled people to pool their resources in order to access a wider range of services and support activities.

Rhian Davies, chief executive of Disability Wales (which is delivering the project in partnership with the Wales Co-operative Centre) says CDCC members are likely to experience “greater well-being through membership of the co-op due to increased levels of independence, voice, and control”.

Increased independence is the primary objective of many global co-operatives, supporting the seventh co-op principle of concern for the community – whether this community is brought together by location, ideology or difference.

The gender equality debate in particular has been at the centre of international conversation recently. Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai – known for human rights advocacy for education and for women – was announced as the co-recipient of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, while the latest report by the World Economic Forum has projected that international gender equality will be reached – but not until 2095.

In the UK, politicians are focusing on another aspect of gender: the issue of issue of violence against women. While violence against men is no less serious, the figures of violence against females are such that Labour has appointed Seema Malhotra MP as the shadow minister for preventing violence against women and girls.

The new role, created by current shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, includes work on the prevention of, and responses to, rape, domestic and sexual violence, female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, trafficking and prostitution policy.

Ms Malhotra, a former management consultant and founder of the Fabian Women’s Network, was elected Labour and Co-operative MP for Feltham and Heston in 2011.

“The statistics show nothing short of a national scandal,” she says. “Two women a week are killed by their partners or ex-partners.

“We need to lift the lid on this, and the co-op movement is best placed to be part of these campaigns.”

She believes this is partly because the movement has a history of global reach, and of campaigns for equality.

The co-operative movement has a history of strong female members, from Mary Cottrell, the first woman elected to the board of the Co-operative Wholesale Society, to Lily Howe, the first female editor of Co-operative News. But the movement also has a history of direct action in support of women.

In 1910, the Women’s Co-operative Guild presented evidence at the Royal Commission on Divorce demanding help for those most ignored by protective legislation. And just over a century later, Midcounties Co-operative selected Women’s Aid – which works to end domestic violence against women and children – as its charity of the year 2011-12.

The UN declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives; that same year it also established 11 October as the International Day of the Girl, to “raise awareness about all issues concerning gender inequality”.

“One big message from Day of the Girl 2014,” says Ms Malhotra, “was that we’re not going to make big changes by working individually – we need nations working together.”

She recognises that some issues facing women and girls are the result of cultures coming together, and believes that a co-operative approach could also be used to tackle this. “The movement has a good history of working across cultures and bringing people together for more equal outcomes,” she says.

In terms of the practical prevention of violence against women and girls, Ms Malhotra cites bringing in legislation, appointing a commissioner against violence and establishing sex and relationship education that is age appropriate as courses of action being considered. She also pays tribute to movements such as the End Violence Against Women coalition and the Girl Generation, an African-led campaign to end FGM, which, she added, also had an important role to play.

“Addressing violence is a precursor to tackling wider education and employment issues, and poverty,” she says.

“The impact of violence impacts on life chances and opportunities.”

Click here to meet some of the co-operatives making the world a more equal place.

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