The 67th Session of the United Nations Commission on Status of Women (UNCSW 67) – Virtual Parallel Event, from N.Y H.Q., Organised by Working Women’s Forum-Indian Cooperative Network for Women, (Chennai, H.Q.,)

The legendary Working Women’s Forum (WWF) (India) – Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW) hosted the historical virtual parallel event globally for the third time to the 67th Session of the UN Commission on Status of Women (UNCSW) now from Chennai H.Q., 

27 years of consultative status with UN H.Q, WWF-ICNW is the only cooperative network globally to be chosen for the parallel event for the third time.

This parallel event is entitled “Innovating Networks for Women’s Cooperative Leadership through Capacity Building-The International Network for Women in Cooperatives”.

The president of WWF-ICNW, Dr. Nandini Azad, delivered the introductory remarks and experience of WWF-INCW, which was inspired by many global participants. 

Global cooperative networks of women are taking part alongwith mass cooperative workers of WWF/ICNW (both in English/Tamil). She stated500 poor women leaders, from Southern states will testify through case studies, successful entrepreneurs, inspiring life stories from the movement of young and old women.

Dr. Nandini Azad, President, WWF-ICNW in her Introductory remarks states that “ We are the only instance in the world that poor grassroots women have the courage to provide the leadership to convene the whole world online but to stress the importance of building woman’s leadership in cooperatives. That is mainly patriarchal to gear to fight on women’s struggles (women are about 25% in mixed cooperatives).

She continued, World leaders have increasingly admired our gender and equity model. On behalf of our 1000 members from 13 cooperative branches in India that are watching. We resolve to continue our work of the International Network of Women in Cooperatives (based at our Chennai H.Q.,).

Focused on women’s networks in cooperatives, advocating, struggling to represent women at higher echelons. She highlighted key issues and challenges faced by women in decision making levels in cooperatives

Uniquely this event has, a face to face interaction of International activists (20 countries) with grassroots women in South India (4 states) today. Dr. Nandini Azad, how in a patriarchal world poor women are taking the leadership from India’s mass cooperatives, from slums/villages mobilizing globally.

The Working Women’s Forum (WWF) (India) – Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW) is a social movement having reached approximately 6,00,000 poor women members in 4 southern states of India (Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka & Telangana), leverage small petty loans to informal sector poor women engaged in 285 occupations. Using financial inclusion as the key, organizing poor women workers through credit groups, continuous loaning, counseling training in empowerment/ gender awareness/ skills. WWF-ICNW, is a role model for transformation of many other cooperatives of poor & vulnerable. The ICNW developed a model within the context of SDGs, (1,2,3,4,5,9,13 &14). Therefore poor women after availing loans, diversified business, trained as co-operators, become women leaders & contribute now globally convening International Cooperative Network  for Women. 

As a result, many women opt to work independently to take care of families & business through financial assistance plus from WWF-ICNW, emerging as successful entrepreneurs. WWF-ICNW have proved that if poor women are provided financial assistance & training, they will be leaders and not be poor any more. 

Cooperatives have to play a vital role in combating gender inequality and lack of women’s representation in cooperatives in decision making. Cooperatives can act as new mechanism’s (instrument) in transforming poor & vulnerable women to successful entrepreneurs & leaders.

WWF-ICNW stand’s represented on most global unions/alliances of the International Cooperative Movement today “through elections”. Active global player on gender, livelihood and cooperative issues

Organizing women into cooperatives, enables to increase solidarity/economic security/entrepreneurial skill & contribution to social/physical wellbeing of their families/leadership in families/communities/workplace. The International Network for women in Cooperatives (INWC) (initiated by WWF-ICNW) provides a glimmer of hope for international awareness on enforcement of conventions/restoring gender balance/gender networking in cooperatives and success of new age women-only cooperatives (trendsetters).

In today’s panel, after the opening remarks, the dynamic Deputy Director of UNWOMEN, N.Y (focal point for women in the U.N System), Mr. Vivek Rai,  sensitive to gender issues, very kindly recognises the good work of the International Network for Women in Cooperatives. He wishes strength & solidarity to way forward on behalf of UN WOMEN to our network saying, “Cooperatives have to take lead in advancing gender equality & rise in leadership level of women to help integrate a gender perspective in technology innovation, contributing to global agenda of DG 2030. Strengthening capacities of women, empowering women & girls. He highlighted the qualitative research of UN WOMEN, on online gender based violence against women in Latin America, which states women are affected in freedom of expression. Opposition to gender equality is deeply concerning & finding increased public & political legitimacy, witnessed worldwide. He informs us that most visible women like women rights defenders, activists, journalists, trade union, politicians & cooperative leaders are disproportionally targeted, to silence themselves & limits their participation in public conversation. 

The Head of Cooperative Unit, International Labour Organisation (responsible for social justice), Ms. Simel Esim, highlights that, women should claim their space in leadership position with the help of cooperatives, as they play better than non-cooperatives. She quoted an example of the agriculture sector, i.e., majority of women contribute, but only few are in leadership due to ownership patterns. She added that cooperatives are doing better in women’s   leadership as they gain positions to address personal, communal needs and freedom from violence. She stressed on gender equality guidance, management& leadership training and mentorship & preferably 50% women should be represented in leadership to bring men & women in same tables. “Women only cooperatives need (women are main producers) to have a positive impact in providing opportunities for improved livelihoods but also suggests to prioritize sustainability, building capacities, establishment of markets, which makes women to stand on their own. Suggesting 3 core strategies for the women only cooperatives such as horizontal (setting up networks), vertical (setting up unions & federations to provide services) & transversal growth (infusing valuable principles).

The Secretary General of International Raiffeisen Union (IRU), Mr. Andreas Kappes, congratulated their board member Dr. Azad (only woman in 50 years lauds women’s cooperation in networks, a new phenomenon), by applauding  that she has been fighting for women’s co-operators all her life and keen in improving women’s economic position in India and Worldwide. He stressed that women are underrepresented in leadership position, and there is  need for leadership training tools for women to take leadership roles. He added that through this, women can handle things independently & gain confidence to self govern themselves. He states, education is key drivers for economic sustainability of women. Also added they face systemic discrimination which limit their contribution to development, but if they provided equal opportunities & access to resources they achieve remarkable success. He highlighted cooperatives are the base & their principles such as self help; self responsibility; self administration; solidarity; social responsibility will foster women. 

The Deputy Program Manager of The Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM Secretariat) from Guyana in South America. Ms. Milagro Matus, presented the challenges, opportunities and gaps for women in the countries of CARICOM region, these are Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat (a British overseas territory in the Leeward Islands), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. She stated that women in CARICOM region face similar difficulties in food & nutrition and under performance in agriculture sector. She added that the true transformation of rural economy & food system is not possible without the inclusion of women. For true transformation of women she recommends women’s participation in value chains by creating spaces like our International Network for Women in Cooperatives; building awareness & advocacy; capacity development intervention; improves data & analysis of rural women; development of knowledge & technology in reducing gender inequality; increase access to income & credit; free technical assistance. She added WWF-ICNW is the perfect practical examples of creating independent women entrepreneurs that they wish to replicate in their region. She stated women & youth needs high priorities on regional agenda, leaving no one behind.

The Vice president of World Farmers Organisation (WFO), Italy, Ms. Katrina Sarah Milne represented Oceania, states women’s rights are not fully recognised as evident by meeting  women farmers around the globe. Added that women farmers feel incredibly biased in all systems , especially in rural areas & less developed nations. Women not possess property rights, and their work are not valued & unrecognised.  While highlighting WFO’s contribution to this sector, she adds, WFO, Working group have made improved policies on climate smart agriculture, disaster to foster women to keep women in front and shift governments. 

Ms. Ghada Ahmadein, chairman of “Regional Nile Women Network”, Egypt states that water stress makes disproportionately impact women & girls, forcing them to spend more time & energy  in search & retrieving of water. Also added the network is thus created by community grassroots women realizing the commitment & policies of Nile Basin government & other stakeholders focusing on gender mainstreaming in policies & programmes.  She states that in the Nile network in “10 Nile basin countries” (Burundi, DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, The Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda) countries, even though 50% population are women, they are not represented in decision making levels and are out of development programs. The shocking fact is that around 2 billion people around the world are without clean water and girls are forced to skip school as they are busy collecting water, facing life threatening experience like danger of attacks by predators. 

The lead of the Insu Resilience, Centre of Excellence on Gender Smart Solutions focusing (climate financing), Ms. Jennifer Phillips, provided brief on financing & insurance; on climate & disaster rescue. She states women’s groups are highly affected by these incidents and how Insu resilience works on it.

The cooperative leaders from the South India shared their experience in the panel, being examples & inspiring many women around the world. In Adiramapattinam, fisherwomen are denied their rights, but through ICNW cooperative support, fisherwomen members succeeded in repairing fishing canals, auction rights without middlemen, becoming owners of fish marketing &economy; In Kancheepuram, Government policy protected only male weavers through its cooperatives. WWF-ICNW intervened and made women weavers as the members of Weaver’s Cooperative Society and made them avail the same facility/benefits available to men, reducing electricity bills for looms; In Vellore, ICNW cooperative members fought against discriminatory wages among beedi rollers and child labourers and ICNW facilitated them to practice alternative employment through micro cresit (pickle, jam, agarbathi making); In Dindugal, ICNW cooperative helped landless women in revision of wages, women head loaders assisted to procure banana, tamarind & sold to rural market with profits.

Some women members also said about changes in their life. Some examples are Sasikal Senthil (38 yrs), states that WWF-ICNW’s training along with credit, made her to take ownership of her business (clothing) and family without her husband’s support. Initially being an idle women, now involves in decision making, and addressed community issues; Bhavani Ganapathi (48 yrs), a tailor by occupation, has 3 children says, training from WWF-ICNW made her to be courage to make decisions in family & solve problems.

It is pride of India, South India Chennai that poor women are leaders not helpless in our culture, are combating poverty and gender discrimination in a transforming world.

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