Blanca Méndez is in Manchester for the kick-off of the Oikocredit Roadshow 2012 on Cooperatives during Cooperatives United, the international event and exhibition which officially marks the closure of the International Year of Cooperatives.
The countdown has started
30 October 2012 23.15hrs | All documents are printed and I only need to close my suitcase. It is not too late. Six months of preparations are coming to the end: tomorrow I will be in Manchester for the kick-off of the Oikocredit Roadshow 2012 on Cooperatives. I will finally meet Andrés González, general manager of Cooperativa Manduvirá Ltd, and will see Rodrigo Ortiz, Country Manager of Oikocredit Paraguay, again. We have been in contact online lately and the last time I saw him was in 2009 in Amersfoort. Time flies!
A special welcome
31 October 2012 10.35hrs | It may sound weird for many, but this is my first time in the UK. My arrival in Manchester was not my favourite landing-type: strong winds welcomed the plane. At the immigration post I looked around trying to find fellow Co-operatives United visitors, but nobody seemed to come for the event. After some minutes walking towards the station I saw outside a huge billboard announcing the Cooperatives United event and welcoming participants.
Meeting good old folks
31 October 2012 12:20hrs | The conference venue and the organization are impressive. From the moment I registered, I felt the cooperative spirit. Everywhere there is someone ready to help you, share something and give you the feeling you are part of this event. Families walk around with kids carrying “passports” that they can have stamped at every stand visited, including Oikocredit’s.
Finding Oikocredit’s stand was very easy. On the area map, Oikocredit is on top of the list.
Our stand is close to the entrance and staffed by Tom Bamber, a volunteer of Oikocredit UK & Ireland and participant of the Study Tour 2012 Bulgaria, and Patrick Hynes, Oikocredit UK & Ireland representative. It is good to see them again and catch up.
Not only adults visit the stand to learn more about our work, but also children pass by to get a stamp for their passport and to try some Divine Chocolate treats... It’s almost Halloween!
31 October 2012 – 12:40h | With some time left before the Gender Forum workshop starts, I decide to walk around and get a better sense of the whole event. I do not have to walk far to encounter several stands of Oikocredit agricultural partners:
I have a brief talk with the representative of Pangoa. She mentions that she knows Carina Torres, country manager of Oikocredit Peru, and is very happy to meet someone from Oikocredit, especially because I am also Peruvian and speak Spanish.
Women and Cooperatives
31 October 2012 – 13:30h | One of the workshops that caught my attention was the Gender Forum. I was very curious to learn more how cooperatives address topics, such as women empowerment and equality.
I was welcomed by the representative of Equal Exchange and got a sample of coffee produced exclusively by women of small farmer cooperatives.
The forum focused on the role and position of women in the society and cooperatives in Europe with examples from the UK, Norway, and Italy. It is clear that in most countries women are still behind in terms of representation in boards, top management positions of private businesses and cooperatives.
In Norway, where a gender quota of 40% was enforced after much public debate, credit cooperatives have only 38% of female representation in their boards, whereas agricultural cooperatives have 40%. It is also fair to mention here that agricultural cooperatives implemented this gender quote before it was compulsory.
Gender pay gap remains a problem
The gender pay gap is still a big problem. In the case of full-time employees in the UK, women earn 10.5% less than men. In the case of part-time workers, the average gap is 20%. Motherhood, lack of flexibility for part-time work at op management positions, high costs of childcare, and the less value given to female-dominated jobs prevent them from landing top positions.
Guardian columnist Polly Toymbee highlighted the “disrespect” for any job related to household and children and elderly care because it is mainly done by women and gave a clear example of how “it is different when a job is branded as women’s or men’s”: when cooking became acceptable as men’s work, the job was upgraded from being a simple “cook” to the “chef” status.
Cooperatives can offer women opportunities
Cooperatives have the potential to attract and keep women either as employees or at managerial and board level. In principle, cooperatives could open opportunities for women because cooperative values are more “feminine”. At the same time women are, by nature, more cooperative, so there is a natural affinity.
As an additional take away, I learned that the oldest Cooperative Women’s Guild was founded in 1883 to support women’s advancement through education and empowerment. I wish I could go back in time to get inspired by its founders.