I’m not a mother and I don’t plan to be one. Perhaps for this reason, Mother’s Day for me is not only about honoring my own mother—it’s about celebrating women around the world who are doing the best they can for their children, even in the direst circumstances. Women are making gains in employment equality and empowerment, but even here in the US gender gaps still exists for pay and representation. We often work in informal—and therefore vulnerable—employment and in gendered sectors like service. In all parts of the world, women continue to spend more time on domestic housework and care, meaning we work longer than men in unpaid roles. In celebration of Mother’s Day, Abigail Driscoll of Freestate and I wanted to shine a light on the women of the world and the employment structure that best provides them with real power and agency in their own futures: cooperatives.
The International Labour Organization defines a cooperative as an autonomous group “united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” The guiding principles of cooperatives additionally provide members with economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; and concern for community. All members receive voting rights and profit-sharing thanks to the democratic structure—benefits which are especially transformative for women producers struggling against inequality.
In recent years, women’s entrepreneurship in developing countries has gained a great deal of attention, and rightfully so. Although there are (and always have been) a significantly greater number of male entrepreneurs across the world, new research is beginning to show the true value of educating and empowering women to start and run their own businesses—in developed and developing nations alike. As the TIM Review states, “Economic analyses now perceive that low levels of education and training, poor health and nutritional status, and limited access to resources not only repress women’s quality of life but limit productivity and hinder economic efficiency and growth.” In other words, research is beginning to reveal the truth that when you empower a woman in a developing country, it not only significantly benefits herself and her immediate family, but whole communities.
Educated and equipped female entrepreneurs are a crucial and necessary tool in poverty alleviation and economic growth for entire nations.
As this information gains traction, more businesses, organizations, and non-profits are harnessing this knowledge to create real opportunities for women all over the world in order to create beautiful products, while empowering communities and reducing poverty—one entrepreneur at a time.
THE REMOVAL OF OBSTACLES AND INEQUALITIES THAT WOMEN FACE WITH RESPECT TO EMPLOYMENT IS A STEP TOWARDS REALIZING WOMEN’S POTENTIAL IN THE ECONOMY AND ENHANCING THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT. —THE WORLD’S WOMEN: TRENDS AND STATISTICS 2010
To honor women all over the world this Mother’s Day, we’ve put together a list of co-ops and companies that are working to make women’s empowerment and economic stability a priority. Not every one of the brands we’ve chosen to feature precisely fits the definition of co-op. However, each of these brands has a strong focus on the education, health, and overall empowerment of women, and they give all or the majority of their profits back to the women they work with. These brands make sure the women have a voice in their own lives and throughout the production process, in a way they culturally have not been able to before.
A. Bernadette partners with artisan cooperatives in Uganda to design and create accessories, housewares, and clothing from recycled and natural materials. As independent member-owned businesses, the cooperatives allow artisans to pool savings to buy materials and repair equipment as well as collectively manage profits. The cooperatives are democratically managed—each member votes to approve buying prices, purchase materials, and distribute funds. The cooperatives not only support their work with A. Bernadette, but are prepared to work with other buyers and implement long-term savings goals.
Shop their items here.
Anchal Project is a women-owned non-profit that works with two NGOs in India to provide opportunity to women in the Kalighat red light district of India. This is an area that has high rates of sex trafficking and where women are used to experiencing extreme and systemic oppression. The goal of the company is “to create sustainable, income-generating textile initiatives run by local leadership that create long-term change for exploited and marginalized women.” They provide design and skills training, sustainable jobs, education, health benefits, community, and access to market, with the aim of providing holistic care that empowers women to gain back their dignity and independence. Anchal measures the impact of their work and tells true stories of the women working for the brand, allowing the consumer to see the the true effect of his or her purchase. The brand has also recently developed the dyeSCAPE project, an initiative that works with marginalized women in Louisville, Kentucky to cultivate natural textile dyeing.
Anchal Project makes beautiful, hand-stitched textiles like scarves, quilts, pillows, and men’s ties! Most of their products are made from vintage saris and eco-friendly fabrics.
CHOKI is a non profit organization founded with the mission of protecting the culture and traditions of some of the most sacred places left in the world that are under the threat of “globalization.” Through their women’s cooperative established in 2014 in Bhutan, they sell fairly traded products and promote the culture and values of the country while preserving unique dying and weaving techniques. A high form of art in Bhutan, the intricate brocades and patterns are created on traditional back strap looms. 100% of the proceeds support the Women’s Cooperative and other social projects in Bhutan.
Connected in Hope is a non-profit that goes “beyond charity” by providing women with the tools they need in order to overcome poverty in a sustainable way. Focusing on three primary areas: economic empowerment, education, and access to health care, the 100+ artisans employed are able to provide for over 400 dependents, educating them and raising them up to be able to provide for their communities and end the cycle of poverty.
Connected in Hope is located in Shiro Meda, which is one of the poorest and most densely populated communities in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. They produce women’s accessories, jewelry, and home goods and are a part of the Fair Trade Federation. The company partners with organizations and corporations in Ethiopia as well as North Carolina in order to empower those who need it and give back to communities.
Della is a women-owned, women-run fashion line that works directly with both men and women in Ghana, West Africa. Their clothing and accessories are made by hand with textiles sourced from the Volta Region. The brand focuses on empowering the people of Hohoe, Ghana, by providing them with stable jobs, education, and other resources. 100% of Della’s profit goes back into these communities, giving the artisans opportunities to take literacy and money management classes, access to healthcare and child care, as well as a volleyball league! The company also works with an orphanage in Ghana, where each week one of the seamstresses volunteers her time to love and educate the children there.
The Fabric Social’s goals are ambitious for their mostly women producers based in rural Assam, India—they include sustainable livelihoods, economic independence, entrepreneurial skills development, community development and women-led peace initiatives, and equal participation in civil and political life. The company maintains that, “Without the being able to meet basic needs with a decent income, women become trapped in a cycle of poverty that results in their exclusion from participation in their community, political process and decision-making forums.” To that end, they employ weavers working in a “co-op style” group on the collective task. The weavers set their own work hours, decide how much fabric they want to weave, and set their own price for every meter they create. This investment in women benefits them, their families, and their community by providing them with a way to break the cycle of poverty.
Make a purchase from them or donate to their social impact fund.