Role of Women Cooperatives

Full title

Role of Women Cooperatives in empowerment of marginalised women

General Information

Project's Coordinator:
Sandeep Chachra, ActionAid India

Research Cluster:
Partnership in development cooperation: access, accountability, and deep participation

Women Co-operative, Empowerment, Exclusion, Marginalised Communities

Main Research Question

  • What is the role of Women Cooperatives in India in uplifting the status of women on economic, social, legal & political fronts?
  • Significant Factors affecting the contribution of cooperatives towards empowerment of women particularly belonging to marginalized communities such as Dalits, indigenous, DNTs & religious Minorities


According to UN Women, in comparison to men the women bear at least two and a half times more household and care work. The gender gap in the labour force has become more evident than ever in India. The trend shows rapid masculinization of the labour force with the female labour force participation rate falling to a historic low of 23.3% in 2017-18 (PLFS data of NSSO). This has come despite the fact that various flagship schemes over the years have been carried out for the cause of women empowerment. Further analysis shows that women belonging to marginalized communities like the Dalit, tribal, DNT & Muslim communities face various manifestations of patriarchy. The rising rate of atrocities against these communities as recorded by NCRB bears testimony to this fact. Experiences show that women belonging to these communities have lesser access to education, government schemes, skills, credit, and other factors required for entrepreneurship. They are typically employed in low earning jobs requiring longer hours of work and remain devoid of any form of social protection.

The cooperative movement is of great significance in India and finds mention even in the Indian Constitution. It has touched various walks of life from agriculture, fertilizer, banking, dairy, sugar, housing to modern day sector such as information technology. Women cooperatives have a long history in the country. They have a direct and indirect impact on the employment of women. Their economic success and role in the empowerment of women have been the subject of various studies conducted over time. However, an enquiry into the role of cooperatives in empowering women belonging to marginalized communities such as Dalit, tribal, DNTs, and Muslim pose a research gap. The proposed research will investigate the women cooperatives in Bihar, W. Bengal, Kerala, Gujarat, and some other states of India to gauge the inclusion of women particularly belonging to marginalized communities.


The aim of the project is to assess the role of cooperatives in empowerment of women socially, economically (control over own income) & politically (voting, participation in local governance, political representation) in India.

Whereas the specific aim of the project is to assess the change in the lives of women belonging to marginalized communities through participation in the cooperative movement. To further investigate if participation in cooperative is leading towards their empowerment through better access to information, skills & training and their leadership in management of the cooperatives of which they are a part.

The SDG recognizes gender equality & women’s empowerment as integral to each of the 17 goals. It envisions an economy that works for all. It has been recognized that gender along with caste and class play an important role in the production relations. GPN recognizes that the fruits of development are distributed unevenly and it is more than often that the inclusion of marginalized communities is not ensured. Hence the aim of the project aligns with the vision of GPN that promotes inclusion of sub altern communities in the process of development.


Empowerment is a multi-dimensional process and under development and gender inequality are directly correlated. This study is of importance as this delves upon the factors contributing to the empowerment of women through the cooperative movement and of particularly those belonging to the weakest constituent of the Indian social structure. The present study is confined to capturing the impact of the women’s association with cooperative movement in India. The findings of the study would be more satisfactory if this covers a significant number of women cooperatives. Time constraint will be a challenge in this regard. Due to the scattered location of cooperative societies of different natures, the study will be confined to 10 different women cooperative societies across 5 different states of the country. The research will support the government as well as civil society members towards framing the future policy discourse.

Literature Review

V M Rao in his study on women dairy cooperatives of Rajasthan titled “Women Dairy cooperatives in Rajasthan - Success story of Women Dairy Project” & another study based in AP & Karnataka titled “Development of Women through Dairy Cooperatives- A study in Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka” establishes the fact that in all the three states it was evident that women were economically empowered through participation in the dairy cooperatives. Also, the second study points out that women are able to make autonomous decisions at a domestic and professional level.

The Ministry of Women & Child Development, GoI supported study titled “Women Dairy Project- Balasore & Bhadrak District of Orissa” done by H.K Dash, B.N Sadangi, & H. Pandey depicts the higher milk production as a result of providing inputs and training to the members along with market infrastructure.

Women Empowerment & Cooperatives- A comparative study of general cooperatives & fisheries cooperatives done by Dr. Prameela S Shetty & Dr. T N Sreedhara found that the empowerment of women was more in the case of general cooperatives as compared to fisheries cooperatives. The fisheries cooperatives suffer from various drawbacks ranging from excessive government regulations, lack of capital, managerial conflicts, etc.

In his project work titled “The role of Cooperatives in Empowering The rural Women: The case of Shusha Saving & Credit Cooperative Union, GenBossa, SNNPR, Ethiopia”, Mr. Taybela Shanko observes that there are socio-economic benefits for women participating in RASCCOs through providing loans, and training enable the members to perform income-generating activities; which help them to increase their income, saving and relatively decision making power. The result shows that participation in cooperative services has a positive impact on the empowerment of women. This is also an indication, being organized into cooperatives is very important for women to improve their socio-economic condition in rural areas.

Fiona Duguid & Nadya Weber conducted a literature review on the subject of “Gender Equality & women’s empowerment in Cooperatives” recommends on the basis of sectoral analysis and practical publications (manuals, guidebooks, and other documents on women’s empowerment and gender equality published by cooperatives) to bring about Policy & legislation to overcome cultural and structural barriers for women; to create enabling environments that allow women farmers to create their own co-operatives & to advocate on behalf of women in countries in which land laws and the practice of distributing agricultural-related resources discriminate against women. Their operational recommendations were to adopt gender equality plans of action, further financial and technical support for marginalized cooperatives, institutional leaders to model gender parity and require members to meet and exceed co-operative/industry standards through policies and awareness-raising; to assist women in under-valued areas of the consumer cooperative sector & to support the development of women’s co-operatives through start-up funding; training on co-operative business governance, management and operations; and awareness building for the potential supportive infrastructure. They further recommend to build capacities of women for equal participation in cooperative movement; promote women in leadership positions in the world of cooperatives.


Selection of Research Area (Cooperatives): The selection of the states will be made on the basis of the HDIs and particular indicators related to the empowerment of women. Two states from the top & bottom ranking and one at the median will be selected for the purpose of the study. Two cooperatives will be studied in each of the selected states.

Data sources: Both Primary & secondary data will be used for the purpose of this study. Primary data will be collected through conducting field visits by research scholars and organizing FGDs with women cooperative society members including those belonging to marginalized communities for collection of qualitative data, household surveys through structured schedules and interviews of key informants through using a checklist. Case studies of women leaders will also be captured.

Secondary data will be collected from annual reports, published articles, and journals.

Suitable tools and techniques will be used for data collection, classification & tabulation. The tabulated data will be processed using statistical tools for analysis & interpretation. Pictoral representation & graphs will be used for ease of understanding and dissemination.

Sampling: A total of 10 cooperatives will be studied for this purpose. Two FGDs will be conducted with members of the cooperative societies. One of the FGDs will be with the women belonging particularly to marginalized communities.

50 household level interviews will be conducted with members of the cooperative society. At least 50% of the respondents will be from the marginalized communities.