Meet… Xiomara Nuñez de Cespedes, chair of the ICA Gender Equality Committee

‘This year we highlight the advances of women in the digital age and emphasise the need for a commitment to increase the number of women empowered’

Xiomara Nuñez de Céspedes comes from the Cooperativa de servicios multiples de profesionales de infirmaria (COOPROENF), a cooperative of nurses in the Dominican Republic. She has served as vice president of the International Cooperative Alliance’s Gender Equality Committee (GEC) and president of the Regional GEC of ICA Americas, before being elected chair of GEC in June 2022.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get involved in co-operatives?

I am Dominican, co-founder of my co-operative, where I currently serve as president of the Committee for the Development of Women of Cooproenf (Cooperative of Nursing Professionals) and I am also a member of the National Administration Council.

I always liked co-operation and fair services, so when I saw the opportunity to improve the quality of life of my colleagues in the hospital together with a group of brave women, we got down to work and founded Cooproenf. This brand has been in existence for 27 years. These 27 years marked a before and an after in the lives of more than 22,000 associates of the health sector that belong to Cooproenf in the Dominican Republic.

You were elected chair of the ICA Committee on Gender Equality in 2022. What are your priorities for your term?

We have an ambitious programme that will give continuity to the strategic plan set out by the board of directors of the ICA with a gender focus. Our emphasis will include work as a support hub and permanent reference for gender equality issues in co-operatives. We will promote and support female leadership with observatories, statistics and more tools that visualise the work of women in co-operatives, and serve as a point of reference for decision-making bodies in matters and problems that concern the development of gender equity. We will provide a gender approach to the planning of the conservation of the environment and decent work inside and outside the co-operatives, and promote an education plan for the prevention of interfamily violence with a gender focus.

Why is it important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

It is important because in terms of gender equality policies, there is a long way to go, even in co-op organisations, to reduce the gaps in the participation of women that go beyond being “associates”. This day represents a significant date where the world sets its eyes on the various problems of women’s participation and their possible solutions and we must take advantage of this framework to visualise it.

It is necessary to make leaps towards more political participation. The gender committees exist to create and monitor the norms that establish a fair and equal participation in the structures where decisions are made. It is not just a question of appearing in the organisational charts, but of establishing incidence programmes that allow the participation of women in co-operatives and other institutions.

This year’s International Women’s Day explored the impact of the digital gender divide in widening economic and social inequalities. How did the Gender Equality Committee celebrate it? And how can co-ops help to address this issue?

The theme proposed by the UN and which the ICA will use is “For an inclusive digital world: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.

This year we highlight the advances of women in the digital age and emphasise the need for a commitment to increase the number of women empowered – we are definitely far below our male peers in this field and it is necessary to balance the participation of women and girls in the areas of technology and science. We will highlight good co-op practices and raise awareness through various conferences on the advantages of women’s participation. Co-operatives can help to address this issue by encouraging and promoting the participation of women in these areas.

You mentioned the role of co-operatives in addressing the digital gender gap. Can you give any examples?

There are many co-operatives that motivate their members to train in the digital area – one example is Coomeva in Colombia, which provides diplomas and training courses on technological issues, as well as Cooproenf in the Dominican Republic or the Central Co-operative in the United Kingdom, among many others.

One issue that often arises with regard to women’s empowerment is the lack of women in executive leadership roles. How can co-operatives encourage more women to come forward or serve in senior leadership roles?

By having organisations promote the co-operative model among women – capitalising on good practices, promoting gender equity policies within organisations, and seeking new strategies that optimise their participation in equal rights.

Change sometimes requires adopting a different mindset and addressing existing misconceptions and gender stereotypes. Is this an area in which co-operatives can also help, being enterprises open to all? Are there any statistics on this?

One of the main problems of not visualising the contribution and work of women in co-operatives is the absence of reliable statistics to visualise their participation. We must work on that.

Do you have any advice you can pass on to women trying to establish their careers?

Do not give up!!! There are many ways to achieve success, but one way to not achieve it is to give up, consider that the road is long and tortuous, however, we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. Go ahead, the sky is the limit!