Cooperatives and equal rights and opportunities

The Sustainable Development Goal number 5 of the United Nations states:

“Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, it is one of the essential foundations for building a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”

Cooperatives, which were born as an organized collective response against situations of inequality, have a long tradition in this regard.

In equal conditions

In 1995, the International Cooperative Alliance, taking up the spirit of the Rochdale Pioneers, adopted the Cooperative Identity Statement.

The first of the cooperative principles set forth there indicates that cooperatives are:

“Organizations open to all people who want to use their services and who want to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.”

For its part, the Basque cooperativism assumed, in December 2020, an “explicit commitment to equality between women and men, in working conditions, organization and internal functioning, and in the provision of its services, as well as in its relationship with other entities in the environment”.

Under the slogan “+Cooperatives + Equality”, the Higher Council of Cooperatives of the Basque Country (CSCE) and Konfekoop (the Confederation of Cooperatives of the Basque Country) have recognized the work on equality issues of three Basque cooperatives: Auzo Lagun (catering services) , Eroski (distribution sector) and Integrated Social Services (care sector).

Three Basque examples

Auzo Lagun and Eroski are part of Mondragon Corporación, whose origins, in the mid-1950s, are linked to the figure of José María de Arizmendiarrieta, a key figure in Basque cooperativism and with a relevant role in the creation of Auzo Lagoon. For its part, Integrated Social Services (SSI) is included in the Alternative and Solidarity Economy Network of Euskadi (REAS-Euskadi).

The creation of Auzo Lagun, on March 6, 1969, can be considered a very important social innovation. The cooperative was a pioneering milestone in the incorporation of women in the labor market, through the professionalization and dignity of female work. 17 women made history as it was the first State cooperative constituted by and for married women, overcoming important social, cultural and labor barriers.

The creation of the Eroski cooperative, in 1969, can also be considered a social innovation in favor of women. Since its inception, there have been more women than men on its staff who have had the ability to make decisions on an equal footing. In addition to creating female employment when women hardly left their homes, they have also made a strong commitment to education and training since their origins.

The main objective of Comprehensive Social Services (SSI) is the provision of services to people. The great social innovation of SSI consisted in the creation of the offer of social services in the Basque Country, where there was a great demand due to the aging process of its population, but not an efficient offer. This project began in the late 1980s and currently employs 570 people, 97% of whom are women. In addition, it promotes training, empowerment and promotion processes within the organization itself among its members and workers.

These three examples show that cooperatives are a good place for women to develop their professional career. In addition, studies show that the presence of women on boards of directors and governing councils has a positive impact on the development of responsible management, which encompasses all groups (workers, consumers, suppliers…) with which the company interacts.

Note: Arantza Echaniz-Barrondo and professors Aitziber Mugarra-Elorriaga and Marta Enciso-Santocildes have prepared a book chapter (in preparation) in which they delve into the cases of Auzo Lagun, Eroski and SSI.

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