There is no doubt that women are playing a key role in the socio-economic development of societies across Africa. They are highly engaged in agriculture, small-scale industries, and other primary sectors in rural areas. They are also actively participating in cooperative societies like SACCOS focusing on savings and credit services. However, reliable and extensive information on their contribution to cooperative societies is not enough. Their contribution is seldom recorded. Even when the data is available, it is not sufficiently used as a tool for planning and decision-making.
It is essential to recognize women’s role in cooperatives and bring them into the mainstream of economic development. Cooperative societies can use their contributions in many dimensions to their advantage. However, the gender gap, financial illiteracy, and other inequalities hinder the growth that they deserve as a significant part of society.
Governance and leadership
Women’s participation in the governance of cooperatives has been significant. According to a survey conducted by International Labour Organization (ILO), in Tanzania, women’s attendance rate in Annual General Meetings is higher than that of men (54% of women compared to 42% of men). The survey also expressed that women comprised 25% of all attendees in AGMs while their share of membership was only 20%.
Women also make up 40% of the total board members and 38% of the supervisory committee. In regards to their leadership, the survey shows that women’s presence on financial cooperative boards is 24% in Kenya and as high as 65% in Tanzania.
According to the Global Institute for Research and Education (GIFRE)’s research conducted in 2016, most of the SACCOS in Tanzania led by female managers and chairpersons are more successful than those led by male managers.
Policy and legal framework
Regarding drafting policies and legal frameworks for cooperatives, countries like Kenya and Tanzania have adopted modern approaches to enhance their policies and ensure compliance. However, they are rarely influenced by the needs and interests of women. This can be done by including women at the top-level management so that policies can be drafted that cater to the needs of women and support their progress. It can help cooperatives build a suitable environment for women and realize their contribution to the development of societies.
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Cooperative societies in Tanzania and Uganda enjoy a fairly balanced gender ratio in overall membership. In agricultural cooperatives, when it comes to fruits, cereals, and dairy, women’s percentage of the membership is even higher and their number is continuously growing. According to the same survey conducted by ILO, women’s savings account for 40% of the total savings and they make up 29% of total borrowers in the societies.
Cooperative societies are known for providing employment opportunities to thousands of people both through direct and indirect employment. Tens of thousands of people were employed by cooperatives in the last two decades. Women’s share of employment in these societies has also increased in recent years. Women comprise 45% of total employees in cooperative societies in Kenya and 36% in Uganda. Women in Tanzania comprise a substantial 61% of employees in cooperative societies.
Conclusion – The impact of women’s contribution to cooperative societies has grown in recent years. Moreover, cooperative societies have also played a significant role in boosting the socio-economic development of women. It is more evident in rural parts of the continent. This collaborative growth will lead to the overall development of the country, bringing benefits to the societies.