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Cooperatives as an engine for women’s empowerment

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Around the World.coop is  happy to announce our brand new column: the Toolbox. ATW has chosen an evocative name, an image that recalls the action of doing. Sometimes, in fact, in order to effectively finalize some action we need to use some specific equipment. We launch it today by putting inside the Toolbox the first tool: cooperatives as an engine for women’s empowerment.

Every month we would like to add a new tool to our box, we would love to fill it with all the useful keys to better read the cooperative world and to become, ourselves, conscious actors within our society.

So, let’s start! Empowerment is a process, more precisely it is the process that leads the individual to the acquisition of self-confidence and self-esteem. It allows the person to take control of his/her own life and it contributes to create awareness of one’s rights.

Empowerment is a dynamic and multi-dimensional concept, which can be easily applied in several contexts: today we focus on women’s empowerment, studying two case studies, the women cooperative in Morocco and in the United States. Ready to fly? Let’s go!

Similarities between Toudarté and Up&Go cooperatives

What do the Toudarte and Up&Go cooperatives have in common? Apparently, it seems nothing: different latitudes, different continents and not comparable sectors. Yet, there is a common thread that links the one that produces argan oil in rural Morocco with the one that offers domestic services in New York, the City by definition: women! Better say, the empowerment of women.

The female collective action is the real protagonist of these two stories; and collective action results a  crucial node as it activates and reinforces women’s empowerment.

Reading articles and papers, quite often we find the concept of empowerment combined with the specification “women”. That’s because recently, international agencies, governmental and non-governmental bodies as well as academics, have shed light on the centrality of women’s empowerment as an instrument for human development.

Development is the process that drives the expansion of people’s capabilities to live the life that one values or has reason to value, moreover development leads the individual to experience the political, economic and social opportunities. This process represents the base for the individual to exercise agency within the community

Women are crucial to achieve human development, both from an intrinsic and an instrumental point of view. In particular, from an instrumental perspective, women act as a driving force for the expansion of household’s and children’s capabilities. Despite women’s force, figures do not seem to be so comfortable: worldwide only the 55% of women participate in the labour market compared to the 78% of men.

 

In 72 countries, just the fact of being a woman represents an obstacle to access to financial resources and credit. Finally, women take the burden of unpaid work, such houseworks and childcare.

cooperatives as an engine for women's empowerment
cooperatives as an engine for women's empowerment
cooperatives and women's empowerment

How both Toudarté and Up&Go cooperatives contribute to raise awareness about the importance of women empowerment?

The cooperative stories of Toudarte and Up&Go contribute to raise awareness on two points: firstly, women’s daily commitments and tasks are not the same in all places. In rural Africa, for example, in addition to childcare and domestic chores, women have to fetch water and collect woods to cook. Certainly, in Europe and United States it will not be an easy task to find a woman that has to walk for hours and hours to collect water for domestic needs, anyway it will be quite easy to find women with a job that keeps them at least 8 hours away from their home every day, in addition to the inevitable domestic works and the care of children.

Secondly, although women have to finalize different daily tasks, they still feel the same needs. Whether they are in Morocco or in the United States, women want to make their voices loud, they want to be agents of their own lives and want to take an active role in societal changes. Let’s give a look on how the cooperative can trigger women’s empowerment.

Participation constitutes the first stimulus for trigger changes and enhances women’s empowerment. It acts through several transmission channels: an important one is economic empowerment. Participation in a cooperative can lead to the  achievement of  an adequate remuneration and a fair income for products and services offered. Aside from the mere, but still important economic aspect, this kind of empowerment is fundamental to reinforce women’s capabilities.

Women who have their own source of income have more decision-making power on how to spend it. Several empirical studies have shown that, especially in Sub-Saharan African Countries, women invest more resources on their children’s education and health, triggering a positive effect for future generations.

Furthermore, women who earn just remuneration got the possibility to work fewer hours per day, thus improving the quantity and the quality of their leisure time. We can find the direct evidence of that in the experience of the members of the cooperative Up&Go.

Cooperative as a catalyst for social development

Beyond human development, cooperatives are catalysts for social development: it represents a training ground to exercise democracy, to express individual and collective needs. Cooperative meetings become the perfect space to express member’s ideas and point of view, moreover they constitute the  space to raise awareness on the rights that everyone has. Not only the worker’s right, but and more importantly the rights as human beings.

Through active participation in the cooperative, one can build both the individual and the collective identity. The collective identity, which means that one can recognize herself in the other, contributes to enhance women’s empowerment.  This is well explained by Cirenia, a member of Up&Go, who sees all the other women as her sisters, as people she can fully trust.

Participation therefore seems to be the key to triggering and evolving women’s empowerment. However, the active participation is not always so immediate: in certain contexts, such as Morocco, women’s participation can be hindered by specific cultural conditions and by the resistance imposed by society.

Moreover, the obstacles can be legislative: in some countries, only the head of the household can participate in a cooperative and usually he is a man. However, even if women have the right to participate in a cooperative, they still have to balance paid work with domestic activities and childcare, hence women can face the lack of time as a constraint to take part in a cooperative. Finally, a woman may also choose not to participate because she has poor self-confidence, as a consequence of living in a society that does not encourage her participation in decision-making processes.

Hence, in contexts with specific rules and cultures, an all-women cooperative can represent a protected space where women can express themselves freely while strengthening each other.

Specifically, collective action gives the opportunity to the Toudarte members to overcome certain limits imposed by society. At first, as Fatima tells us, it was not easy to let women join the cooperative. However, her commitment and perseverance were important to convince at first only a few women, who then actually acted as pathfinders for all the other members. The idea of a woman fully empowered by collective action has produced enormous changes in the community.

Conclusion: cooperatives as an engine for women’s empowerment?

Therefore, the cooperative stories of Up&Go and Toudarte have shown us how the combination of women and collective action can trigger empowerment. These are stories of collective courage which make possible women’s empowerment and social and cultural changes. The presence of a protected space built by women and for women could be an ideal response in those contexts that actually prevent women’s empowerment within the society.

These spaces are a necessity, but they are anyway a first step: the process of women’s empowerment starts with women, but to be finalized it needs that the whole community is  empowered. Legislative, social and cultural changes in society as a whole have to come together  to the process of women’s empowerment, which is why the process of empowerment has to involve all the stakeholders within the society.

After framing  women’s empowerment, it comes natural that the next tool we will put in our Toolbox regard the process of empowerment in mixed cooperatives.  That new equipment will help us understand even more deeply the importance of cooperatives as an instrument for human development, furthermore we will understand what leads a community to choose one type of cooperative rather than  another and how cooperative’s action evolves over time.

Source: Around the World.coop

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The Case for Rights of Nature in Practice

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The Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights (CDER), Honor the Earth, the Native Organizers Alliance, and Menīkānaehkem are pleased to present a “deep dive” workshop on the White Earth Band of Ojibwe’s case to enforce the rights of manoomin (wild rice), Manoomin v. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Watch to learn about the case, the “Rights of Manoomin” law that it is enforcing, the case status, and its implications.

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Systemic Change Driven by Moral Awakening Is Our Only Hope

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Our core ecological problem is not climate change. It is overshoot, of which global warming is a symptom. Overshoot is a systemic issue. Over the past century-and-a-half, enormous amounts of cheap energy from fossil fuels enabled the rapid growth of resource extraction, manufacturing and consumption; and these in turn led to population increase, pollution and loss of natural habitat and hence biodiversity.

The human system expanded dramatically, overshooting Earth’s long-term carrying capacity for humans while upsetting the ecological systems we depend on for our survival. Until we understand and address this systemic imbalance, symptomatic treatment (doing what we can to reverse pollution dilemmas like climate change, trying to save threatened species and hoping to feed a burgeoning population with genetically modified crops) will constitute an endlessly frustrating round of stopgap measures that are ultimately destined to fail.

The ecology movement in the 1970s benefitted from a strong infusion of systems thinking, which was in vogue at the time (ecology—the study of the relationships between organisms and their environments—is an inherently systemic discipline, as opposed to studies like chemistry that focus on reducing complex phenomena to their components). As a result, many of the best environmental writers of the era framed the modern human predicament in terms that revealed the deep linkages between environmental symptoms and the way human society operates. Limits to Growth (1972), an outgrowth of the systems research of Jay Forrester, investigated the interactions between population growth, industrial production, food production, resource depletion and pollution. Overshoot (1982), by William Catton, named our systemic problem and described its origins and development in a style any literate person could appreciate. Many more excellent books from the era could be cited.

However, in recent decades, as climate change has come to dominate environmental concerns, there has been a significant shift in the discussion. Today, most environmental reporting is focused laser-like on climate change, and systemic links between it and other worsening ecological dilemmas (such as overpopulation, species extinctions, water and air pollution, and loss of topsoil and fresh water) are seldom highlighted. It’s not that climate change isn’t a big deal. As a symptom, it’s a real doozy. There’s never been anything quite like it, and climate scientists and climate-response advocacy groups are right to ring the loudest of alarm bells. But our failure to see climate change in context may be our undoing.

Why have environmental writers and advocacy organizations succumbed to tunnel vision? Perhaps it’s simply that they assume systems thinking is beyond the capacity of policy makers. It’s true: If climate scientists were to approach world leaders with the message, “We have to change everything, including our entire economic system—and fast,” they might be shown the door rather rudely. A more acceptable message is, “We have identified a serious pollution problem, for which there are technical solutions.” Perhaps many of the scientists who did recognize the systemic nature of our ecological crisis concluded that if we can successfully address this one make-or-break environmental crisis, we’ll be able to buy time to deal with others waiting in the wings (overpopulation, species extinctions, resource depletion and on and on).

If climate change can be framed as an isolated problem for which there is a technological solution, the minds of economists and policy makers can continue to graze in familiar pastures. Technology—in this case, solar, wind and nuclear power generators, as well as batteries, electric cars, heat pumps and, if all else fails, solar radiation management via atmospheric aerosols—centers our thinking on subjects like financial investment and industrial production. Discussion participants don’t have to develop the ability to think systemically, nor do they need to understand the Earth system and how human systems fit into it. All they need trouble themselves with is the prospect of shifting some investments, setting tasks for engineers and managing the resulting industrial-economic transformation so as to ensure that new jobs in green industries compensate for jobs lost in coal mines.

The strategy of buying time with a techno-fix presumes either that we will be able to institute systemic change at some unspecified point in the future even though we can’t do it just now (a weak argument on its face), or that climate change and all of our other symptomatic crises will in fact be amenable to technological fixes. The latter thought-path is again a comfortable one for managers and investors. After all, everybody loves technology. It already does nearly everything for us. During the last century it solved a host of problems: it cured diseases, expanded food production, sped up transportation and provided us with information and entertainment in quantities and varieties no one could previously have imagined. Why shouldn’t it be able to solve climate change and all the rest of our problems?

Of course, ignoring the systemic nature of our dilemma just means that as soon as we get one symptom corralled, another is likely to break loose. But, crucially, is climate change, taken as an isolated problem, fully treatable with technology? Color me doubtful. I say this having spent many months poring over the relevant data with David Fridley of the energy analysis program at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Our resulting book, Our Renewable Future, concluded that nuclear power is too expensive and risky; meanwhile, solar and wind power both suffer from intermittency, which (once these sources begin to provide a large percentage of total electrical power) will require a combination of three strategies on a grand scale: energy storage, redundant production capacity and demand adaptation. At the same time, we in industrial nations will have to adapt most of our current energy usage (which occurs in industrial processes, building heating and transportation) to electricity. Altogether, the energy transition promises to be an enormous undertaking, unprecedented in its requirements for investment and substitution. When David and I stepped back to assess the enormity of the task, we could see no way to maintain current quantities of global energy production during the transition, much less to increase energy supplies so as to power ongoing economic growth. The biggest transitional hurdle is scale: the world uses an enormous amount of energy currently; only if that quantity can be reduced significantly, especially in industrial nations, could we imagine a credible pathway toward a post-carbon future.

Downsizing the world’s energy supplies would, effectively, also downsize industrial processes of resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation, and waste management. That’s a systemic intervention, of exactly the kind called for by the ecologists of the 1970s who coined the mantra, “Reduce, reuse and recycle.” It gets to the heart of the overshoot dilemma—as does population stabilization and reduction, another necessary strategy. But it’s also a notion to which technocrats, industrialists, and investors are virulently allergic.

The ecological argument is, at its core, a moral one—as I explain in more detail in a just-released manifesto replete with sidebars and graphics (“There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss”). Any systems thinker who understands overshoot and prescribes powerdown as a treatment is effectively engaging in an intervention with an addictive behavior. Society is addicted to growth, and that’s having terrible consequences for the planet and, increasingly, for us as well. We have to change our collective and individual behavior and give up something we depend on—power over our environment. We must restrain ourselves, like an alcoholic foreswearing booze. That requires honesty and soul-searching.

In its early years the environmental movement made that moral argument, and it worked up to a point. Concern over rapid population growth led to family planning efforts around the world. Concern over biodiversity declines led to habitat protection. Concern over air and water pollution led to a slew of regulations. These efforts weren’t sufficient, but they showed that framing our systemic problem in moral terms could get at least some traction.

Why didn’t the environmental movement fully succeed? Some theorists now calling themselves “bright greens” or “eco-modernists” have abandoned the moral fight altogether. Their justification for doing so is that people want a vision of the future that’s cheery and that doesn’t require sacrifice. Now, they say, only a technological fix offers any hope. The essential point of this essay (and my manifesto) is simply that, even if the moral argument fails, a techno-fix won’t work either. A gargantuan investment in technology (whether next-generation nuclear power or solar radiation geo-engineering) is being billed as our last hope. But in reality it’s no hope at all.

The reason for the failure thus far of the environmental movement wasn’t that it appealed to humanity’s moral sentiments—that was in fact the movement’s great strength. The effort fell short because it wasn’t able to alter industrial society’s central organizing principle, which is also its fatal flaw: its dogged pursuit of growth at all cost. Now we’re at the point where we must finally either succeed in overcoming growthism or face the failure not just of the environmental movement, but of civilization itself.

The good news is that systemic change is fractal in nature: it implies, indeed it requires, action at every level of society. We can start with our own individual choices and behavior; we can work within our communities. We needn’t wait for a cathartic global or national sea change. And even if our efforts cannot “save” consumerist industrial civilization, they could still succeed in planting the seeds of a regenerative human culture worthy of survival.

There’s more good news: Once we humans choose to restrain our numbers and our rates of consumption, technology can assist our efforts. Machines can help us monitor our progress, and there are relatively simple technologies that can help deliver needed services with less energy usage and environmental damage. Some ways of deploying technology could even help us clean up the atmosphere and restore ecosystems.

But machines can’t make the key choices that will set us on a sustainable path. Systemic change driven by moral awakening: it’s not just our last hope; it’s the only real hope we’ve ever had.

Source: EcoWatch

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Mobilized TV on Free Speech TV  takes a deep look at our world, the consequences of human activity on our planet, and how we can reverse and prevent existing and future crises from occurring. Mobilized reveals life on our planet as a system of systems which all work together for the optimal health of the whole. The show delves into deep conversations with change-makers so people can clearly take concerted actions.

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Mobilized’s TV series Mobilized TV  premieres on Free Speech TV on Friday, October 15, 2021. All episodes appear:

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Leading Environmental Justice Attorney, Thomas Linzey of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights is a leading force helping communities implement successful rights of nature laws. Find out how your community could take on big business to serve the health of all.

 

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