After decades of armed conflict, Colombia’s government has committed to investing in the co-operative model as a tool for peace-building. But for co-ops to sustainably create peace and enable people in rural communities to thrive, gender inequality must be addressed. Women face unique barriers to participating in co-operative development, and these are more than just a lack of opportunity. While our project in Colombia works to give women co-op members training and tools to produce and sell their own products, we also know that 1 in 3 women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. A woman facing violence may find it more difficult to participate in the project. That’s why we include programming to fight gendered violence.
1. Create safe spaces for women
Women-only events are a crucial step towards enabling women to participate. When women attend women-only training workshops, not only do they learn valuable skills, but they’re also able to discuss their experiences as women and share strategies to cope. Sometimes this includes stories of violence. It creates a safe, intimate environment in which women can begin to heal within a community of supportive peers. They find solidarity and a strong network of women leaders.
2. Engage men to challenge dominant models of masculinity
The project identifies Gender Leaders – people committed to improving gender equality in their communities. Male Gender Leaders attend masculinities workshops. Together, the men examine how masculinity is constructed in their communities and discuss men’s role in violence and domination, as well as how their role can change to build a non-violent society. Afterwards, the Gender Leaders recreate the workshop in their own organizations.
3. Work with co-ops to enable women’s success
Co-ops also review their governance by-laws to ensure they don’t discriminate against women, particularly through membership requirements and access to leadership positions. Co-ops attempt to reach a 30% target for women in leadership positions, and a 50% target for women’s participation in project activities.
4. Supporting women in addressing violence directly
While the activities above reduce gendered violence in the long-term, we know that women may need more immediate solutions when violence is part of their lives. That’s why we offer training to inform participants, both men and women, of the existing laws that protect women and girls’ right to a life free from violence. They’re also trained on the national protocol for supporting women victims of violence. For rural women in particular, laws upholding women’s right to land ownership and recognition of women as farmers in their own right, are important. Gender Leaders learn to map out and form relationships with women’s rights organizations that already exist in their communities, and to help women access psychological and legal support, so that resources are already in place when women come forward.
Gender equality is a basic human right, and a necessity for sustainable development. For those reasons, all our programs address the gender gap. A life free from violence is also a requirement for women to be able to reach economic equality.