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Moving towards a Social and Solidarity Economy with a gender approach

Among the many topics currently addressed by research in Social Economy, one has emerged strongly in the last decade, namely the gender approach, in line with the growing general interest in understanding and contributing to the actual situation of equality between men and women in society. This has been highlighted in a series of published works, showing once again the particular sensitivity of researchers not only to the social economy, – an interest that in itself already denotes a more humanistic character of the researcher -, but also to the specific problems of gender, filling the gaps in research that, until recently, had hardly been devoted to this subject.

One example of this work is the book “Mujeres, Cooperativismo y Economía Social y Solidaria en Iberoamérica“, published by OIBESCOOP, which has had a major impact on the research community, which I am very pleased about. This book is the result of the work of an international research team involving fourteen countries from the observatory’s own network of specialists.

Initially the research was approached from a historical perspective with the intention of recovering the contributions of women who had been part of the trajectory of SSE development in each country. However, this could not be done. We found that in all the countries of the working group there was insufficient information to carry out the study from a historical approach. As we state in the introduction of the book: “if we go through the documents where the role of different protagonists has been recorded, or the collective memory, it is striking how women who have been references in their territories and at the international level have hardly received any attention or recognition”. Thus, names which have made a notable and diverse contribution to co-operativism and its study, such as Ana María O’Neill, from Puerto Rico; Diva Benavides Pinho, in Brazil; Raquel Oses, from Colombia; Alicia Kaplan de Drimer, from Argentina; Roxana Sánchez Boza, from Costa Rica, and Germania Luperón Liriano, from the Dominican Republic, among many others, have not been acknowledged for their contributions.

For all these reasons, we had to proceed to a work shift and focus on the present time, and as a tribute the cover of the book is a composition with the photographs of the women who were identified in the study. The paucity of historical and current documentation, sources of information, statistics, research and publications on women in cooperatives and SSE is striking and worrying. We also identified that this is a widespread problem at the international level and not only in Ibero-America. This situation makes it difficult to carry out analyses and reflections allowing progress in the development of SSE organisations with a gender approach.

Among the conclusions that we draw from the study, we indicate that: 1) despite the fact that SSE entities represent spaces for overcoming the various inequalities and poverty that characterise the territories of the study, these experiences are not always recognised by the markets and public policies; 2) in their role as partners, managers, consumers and workers of the enterprises, women face challenges imposed by the daily life of a patriarchal environment that ends up reproducing and normalising various gender gaps. 3) Activism and action to achieve a balance between private and professional life are essential. 4) Finally, education and training are needed to meet these challenges and generate transformations.

On the other hand, I would like to highlight this year’s OECD report “Beyond pink-collar jobs for women and the social economy“. This report analyses women’s employment in SSE, explores the challenges for gender equality in SSE and offers policy recommendations to recognise women’s work and leadership in SSE. The paper also recognizes that SSE provides valuable lessons in reducing gender wage and leadership, which can become a key focus for public policy. Indeed, the fundamental principles of SSE, such as solidarity, prioritizing people over capital and promoting democratic and participatory governance, can play a significant role in combating discrimination and promoting gender equality.

However, it is important to note that although SSE principles and values promote equality and equity, gender inequalities are also evident within its constituent organizations. We observe a low active participation of women in some economic sectors and feminization of others, as well as limited representation in decision-making and leadership roles. There are also a number of barriers to women’s empowerment and persistent gaps in gender equality. These include the way in which cultural norms, social roles and expectations, economic factors and political environments continue to have a negative impact on women’s participation in SSE in countries around the world.

Finally, we believe that another important aspect is the incorporation of a feminist economic perspective into the SSE development as a way of complementing and strengthening each other. SSE organizations can be a reference in the implementation of measures that eliminate patriarchal structures that limit gender equality and bet on inclusive management models in the search for transformative and transversal practices beyond the sex-gender system.

From this first research experience focused on Ibero-America and through the collaboration between OIBESCOOP and CIRIEC International, we have created an international working group coordinated by Juan Fernando Álvarez, Marie Bouchard and myself. The aim is to deepen this area of research and encourage the incorporation of new people from different approaches and disciplines. In Spain, a working group has also been created by CIRIEC-Spain, which I coordinate with Saioa Arando and Eunate Elio. From both groups we consider that it is necessary to advance in research for the generation of reflections, proposals, practices and policies that address gender inequalities in SSE and promote the inclusion and empowerment of women. Some of the issues we identified are: 1) collection and analysis of data on women’s participation, from a global vision of SSE and in the particular realities (types of organisations economic and geographical contexts, sectors); 2) identifying the challenges and drivers that promote or slow down vertical and horizontal segregation and the wage gap; 3) qualitative studies to better understand of the bidirectional relationship between SSE and the women’s collective; 4) identifying the progress achieved from the different experiences of SSE entities; 5) review of the conceptual foundations of SSE from a gender and feminist perspective to pinpoint possible prejudices, stereotypes or power structures that maintain gender inequalities in the field of SSE.

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CIRIEC-International CIRIEC-España Social Economy Europe Ministerio de Trabajo y Economía Social Unión Europea