Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (One Year)), 10 credits / 15 HE credits
This thesis is a result of a field study conducted in El Salvador. Its background lies in previous research pointing on co-operative’s potential to lift whole groups of people out of poverty. Gender equality has been included because of the issues’ importance for economic and social sustainable development and increased growth. The questions posed in this study are how a co-operative should be organised and managed to bring about advantages to its members; and how a co-operative can contribute to the empowerment of women. The main methods used were interviews and participant observations. Three types of co-operatives were studied; agricultural co-operatives, savings- and credit co-operatives and housing co-operatives. The main conclusion drawn are that the ability of a co-operative organisation to bring about advantages to it’s members depends on if it was founded out of it’s member’s own initiative and interest, and if the members feel in control of the continuous decisions and endeavors of the organisation. This is a precondition for the exercise of democratic control in order to reach collective goals, and participation in activities that can have a significant change for people’s social and economic situation. To yield this empowerment and feeling of control, external and internal structures of countries need to provide equal preconditions for development, which includes the co-operative sector of the poor, and NGOs need to work in a closer relationship with the members of the co-operatives and their reality, and in accordance with the needs and interests that they express. The most crucial relationship that has to function in a co-operative, is the one between the board of directors and the manager with the employees, in order to link two spheres of resources, one of close relationships with the members of the organisations, and the other one of professional knowledge and contacts with important external institutions, in order to achieve the desirable mix of recourses that will bring about benefits to the members. Loyalty to old structures and initial objectives of the co-operatives, do not lead to progress, but to nostalgic and conservative thinking with resistance to change and innovation. Effort needs to be put in converting conservative loyalty into creative involvement, where members actively analyse their organisation’s and environment’s current situation, actively protest against dysfunctions and injustices in it and search for the possibilities it can provide. Relationships in co-operatives can’t be to embedded and based on collective conservatism, because this can yield closed networks of people where new information and initiatives don’t enter. A co-operative should embrace only such an administration that can be handled by its own members, so that they feel capable of, and therefore motivated to participate in the management of their organisation. To reach gender equality, women need not only to participate in productive activities and become more visible in leadership positions. They need to be empowered and feel “managerial control”. To achieve this, psychological barriers based in a culture dominated by men need to be overcome. Access to education and development of capacities, can partly bee achieved trough women organisations, where women find a common space to develop a better awareness of their rights and a better self-esteem. But gender equality should primarily be addressed in common spheres of women and men, so that also men achieve an understanding in the subject, and stop preventing women from participating in organisational activities. Only when norms and beliefs are changed among both women and men, women can break their own sense of inferiority, and exercise full managerial control.