Social economy at the head of the fight for gender equality
The social economy has a history of being ahead of the game on equality issues. For example, the first modern cooperative was the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers, founded in 1844 in the North of England. It was Rochdale’s pioneers (and they are worthy of this title), who recognized the importance of involving all members in the functioning of their cooperative society, basing their society on a member’s democratic principle of one person one vote. This included the votes of women.
In society in general at this time, only male, rich landowners could vote. A series of electoral reforms were needed to extend suffrage and it was not until 1928 that all men and women over the age of 21 had the same right to vote. It is noteworthy that through the Rochdale Society, women members had the same voting rights as men 80 years before they had a fair parliamentary vote.
The first female member of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers was Eliza Brierley, who joined March 1846 at a time when women could not join trade unions and when very few received an education.
In the same time period, legislation said that if a woman was married, her property belonged to her husband; yet Cooperative Societies allowed women to receive their own dividends before the law was changed. Just another demonstration of how the social economy was ahead of the curve, as it continues to demonstrate in multiple areas such as the fair green and digital transitions, employment of people with disabilities and those far from the labour market.
Coming back to this International Women´s day, our colleagues in the Euclid Network (EN) published the TOP 100 WOMEN in social enterprise, in partnership with Empow’her. Through this initiative, EN celebrates women in the social enterprises sector, highlighting their impact journey and achievements, connecting them to learn and inspire each other. The list does not classify these women in any particular order, since it is understood that everyone has the same value. Each in their field, all stood out for having created a significant positive social and/or environmental impact.
In conclusion, it is important to highlight the message made this year by the International Cooperative Alliance (ACI), “Social, political and cooperative action for an egalitarian future“.
The fight and progress towards real equality, reflected in the United Nations 2030 Agenda in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, is a strong commitment to associated labour cooperation. Cooperativists are empowered through an equal labour project that fits, which leads to the fact that, as mentioned earlier, women are the majority in labour cooperatives and achieve higher percentages of leadership and senior management positions.
The values and principles of the social economy, of people first and democratic governance ensure equal working rights. Women and men are their own bosses, make decisions in a participatory and democratic way, abolishing the gender pay gap and can even allows a better work and family/personal life balance.