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Module 3 - Gender issues in women's cooperative businesses

What you will learn in this module

Concept of gender
About gender issues in Thai society, and in cooperatives
About gender issues in a women's group business
About the goals of gender equity for women's cooperatives
How to plan for initiating change


Session 1

Understanding the concept of gender

1 hour

Session 2

Gender issues in Thai society

1 hour

Session 3

Gender issues in women's group businesses;

1 hour 30 min

Session 1 - Understanding the concept of gender

Handout 1: Concept of gender

Gender analysis

What is gender?

Most differences among women and men are created by society and relate to behavioural patterns, which are influenced by the different cultures of different societies. These are known as "gender" differences.

What is acceptable behaviour among women and men changes from time to time and from one place to another. Thus "gender" relations are determined socially and are different across cultures. Gender is, therefore, a lens through which to examine roles and responsibilities of women and men. It helps in analyzing the constraints faced by, opportunities for and the needs of women and men in any given context. Gender issues concern both women and men.

Gender analysis

Gender inequity results from a set of attitudes, beliefs and practices, which are barriers to equality between women and men. The position and condition of women must be analysed within a gender perspective in order to understand the issues that need to be addressed.

Beliefs about gender often cannot be challenged because of the lack of gender disaggregated data. This is why it is important to have a discussion on gender and conduct a gender analysis.

There is a popular saying in Thailand: "Man is the front foot of the elephant, while woman is the back one". This reflects a general view that women are secondary to men. Such beliefs hinder the demonstration of women's capabilities and their participation in public and social activities, including cooperatives. (Patrawat 1996, in CLT 2002). Such beliefs lead to women not recognizing their own capabilities.

A gender analysis includes the following aspects:

In the context of cooperatives, it is also important to examine whether such groups promote equality between women and men in employment, participation in management and in the distribution of the benefits.

Session 2 - Gender issues in Thai society

Handout 1: Gender issues in Thailand

Women in Thailand

It is the general belief in Thailand as well as in the Cooperative Promotion Department that Thai women occupy a good position in society and that gender imbalances are not vast. While this is true to a great extent, there is also much evidence of gender bias.

Education and health

Women and leadership

The general belief and perception regarding women in leadership roles in Thailand is at variance with the facts. Women were given equal voting rights in 1933. However, there were just 22 women members in national parliament in 1998 - 5.6 percent of the total. The percentage of women members of the Senate in 1996 was slightly higher at 8.1 percent. In the same year, women held only 2.4 percent of positions in local village-level administration and comprised just 1.9 percent of sub-district heads.

Although women outnumber men in government service, the majority are in the lower ranks of the bureaucracy. Women's representation at the top three levels of government service (C9 to C11), drops from 21 percent in C9 to 11 percent in C10 and 6 percent in C11. (UNDP and UNIFEM 2000).

Substantial changes were made by the Local Administration Act in 1982 allowing women to become village and sub-district heads. However, women held only 1.9 percent of these posts in 1996.

Women's leadership in agricultural cooperatives is largely confined to the primary level; more men hold senior management and leadership positions in cooperative federations and apex cooperative organizations.

The level of women's participation in village council meetings is also low, perhaps because the meetings usually continue till late into the night and are held outside the village. The 1994 Sub-district Council and Sub-district Administrative Organization Act, providing for the election of sub-district administrative officials, offers the possibility of more women competing for these posts through the electoral process (UNDP and UNIFEM 2000).

The fact is that women have lower representation than men in leadership and senior government positions. However, the widely prevalent perception, among both women and men in Thailand is that there are no barriers to women reaching leadership positions.

The Regional Conference on Women in Decision-Making in Cooperatives, organized in 1997 in the Philippines, outlined six strategies to enable women to have a greater say in decision-making in cooperatives:

- instituting gender-sensitive cooperative laws, by-laws and policies to increase their membership of cooperatives and participation in decision-making;

- promotion of transformation leadership to enhance gender equality in cooperative development;

- building women's capacity for leadership and decision-making in cooperatives;

- developing, promoting and implementing a gender-disaggregated data collection and utilization system for cooperatives;

- creating an enabling environment for improving women's participation in leadership and decision-making in cooperatives;

- establishing a Leadership Development Fund for Women in Cooperatives, to be used for carrying out the actions outlined in the Platform of Action drawn up by the Conference.

Women in cooperatives: lack of gender-disaggregated data

However, as there is limited gender-disaggregated data about the cooperative sector, it is not possible to assess the development trends in women's leadership in the primary cooperatives, provincial and national federations and apex organizations.

Some Thai women group members said that the men see them as 'mother'. This results in the men giving them the right to financial decision-making, as they associate this right with their mothers.

There is a lack of gender-disaggregated data on cooperative membership regarding:

- cooperative chairpersons
- members of cooperative committees
- cooperative staff in managerial, secretarial or administrative positions
- elections - their regularity/women and men contestants

It is necessary to examine the constraints to more women becoming members of agricultural cooperatives. For example, when only one member per family is permitted, men usually represent the family in an agricultural, land settlement or other cooperatives.

It is important to analyse the role and position of women and men in agricultural cooperatives to ensure an equitable distribution of the benefits of cooperative development. Asian cooperatives are influenced by traditional patriarchal cultures and there is evidence of a gender bias in their membership and leadership. One of the basic principles of cooperatives is the elimination of all forms of discrimination, including that based on gender. It is, therefore, necessary to work for greater gender equity in Asian cooperatives (CLT 2002).

Need for affirmative action

Affirmative action is needed for gender equity in Asian agricultural cooperatives.

A start must be made by identifying women's needs in the workplace by answering questions such as: are there sufficient day care facilities for children?

Women require access to production services and the issues here are related to:

- training programmes and participation of women and men
- access to credit for women, purpose- wise classification of loans by gender, and criteria used for disbursing credit

It is necessary that requisite facilities are made available to women so that they may develop their potential and participate fully in their work.

Session 3 - Gender issues in women's cooperative businesses

- divide and share their work, or depend on a strong leader to take charge of most group activities

- pay for the key jobs to be performed in the group

- discuss alternative ways of using surpluses or accept decisions made by some group members

- provide sufficient day care and other facilities for children so that members with small children can continue to work

- provide opportunities for the women to discuss their concerns in the group, enabling them to articulate and solve some gender-related constraints

Handout 1: Gender issues in women's cooperative businesses

Gender issues in women's group businesses

There are several gender-related issues regarding a women's group business. Many leaders of women's group businesses are the wives of prominent leaders, cooperatives officers and village administrators. They enjoy several advantages by virtue of their social position. Such women's groups tend to show the characteristics of employer-employee organizations rather than those of cooperatives. This undermines the basic cooperative principle that the groups are expected to have.

Another aspect relates to how women use the group's income surplus. In most cases, women's group businesses are set up in response to government-initiated support schemes and tend to become dependent on government grants. Indeed, in such cases the groups are often formed only to avail of the grant. When these groups make a surplus, in many cases, instead of reinvesting in business expansion, they tend to donate it to the local community, for example, by instituting a scholarship. This creates continued dependence on government grants. One of the reasons for this is that as a local "women's group" in the area, the members feel 'obliged' to contribute to society. They do not realize that economic strength arising from successful business expansion would enable them to do much more for their community.

A third aspect relevant to a women's group business is unpaid work. Women expect each other to volunteer time for group tasks without a financial remuneration. They, therefore, do not allocate funds for essential group tasks, expecting unpaid work from members. This has two implications: there is an adverse effect on work quality and time taken, and volunteers have to spend unpaid time in the groups.

These practices have their foundation in gender conditioning. It is necessary to discuss some of these issues at the group level. If the trainers can facilitate such discussions, they will be able to initiate some change, instead of just accepting the status quo as a benign situation.

Need for attention to gender equity

It is important to emphasize the need to challenge the current perception of women and men having equal access to opportunities, resources and leadership positions.

The session opens up several issues that women do not normally talk about. Thus, when women from southern Thailand told of constraints they faced because of their ethnicity or religion, women from other ethnic backgrounds wanted to know why the former accepted these restrictions. Such a process of sharing enables women to start challenging existing practices that constrain them. They begin to realise that they do indeed have a right to question existing practice and to exercise their choice to be different. They begin to acquire the courage to face conflicts that can arise during such a process of change.

However, the general lack of data on gender disparities makes it difficult to challenge this perception.

The perceptions of these issues are different among women and men in the Cooperative Promotion Department and agricultural cooperatives. While women are aware of the prevalent gender bias in the attitudes of institutions, they do not articulate it publicly.

It is important to have continuing discussion on gender issues related to education, health and vocational training so that positive changes can be brought about. Women's leadership in cooperatives must be supported by greater networking among women in Thai society.

"Women only" groups provide an important base for building leadership qualities. Women's group enterprises have the potential to empower women economically and socially. This potential must be utilized fully by building women's capacities to improve their businesses, develop leadership and make better choices for themselves within the family and the community.

There is a need to:

- enhance women's access to higher education, especially technical education;

- enhance their access to credit and training;

- enhance their access to leadership positions within cooperatives;

- improve women's business capacities so they have greater access to cash and other resources;

- help women's group businesses become vibrant cooperative businesses, and provide a protected space for nurturing women's business and leadership qualities.

What you have learnt in this module

The difference between sex and gender.

How gender differences arise and are perpetuated by a set of beliefs and attitudes.

Gender biases in Thai society.

Gender biases in cooperatives are less evident because of lack of gender- disaggregated data.

Gender issues in a cooperative women's group business.

Recognition of a women's group business as a forum for economic and social empowerment, and for the development of women's business and leadership skills.

How to begin articulating and addressing gender biases.

Enabling women to become better enterprise managers.

Indicator: access and control over income.

Economic empowerment, improvement in living conditions, practical needs met.

Enabling women to have a larger social role, moving toward social empowerment.

Enabling women to become leaders.

Women gain confidence from successful and growing enterprises. Growing enterprises gain attention and social prominence for the women's groups running them, and can bring them into leadership roles in their Tambons, districts and provinces as well as at the national level.

Groups play an important role in providing a comparatively protected and enriching environment for the growth of women's enterprise and leadership skills.

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