A glimpse from the webinar with SEWA and WIEGO

The ICA-AP Committee on Women organised a webinar on ‘Opportunities for Women Cooperators in Asia-Pacific Post COVID-19’ in August 2021 with participants from China, India, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, Palestine, Philippines, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

The webinar focused on the opportunities that have opened up for women as a result of the initiatives by cooperatives to fight the pandemic. Ms. Chitose Arai, Acting Chairperson of the Women’s Committee noted that the unprecedented crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting structural changes in the economy and society provides an opportunity to improve the status of women.

The panelists – Ms. Liu Ting, Deputy Director, International Cooperation Department at ACFSMC China; Ms. Madhavi M. Virpradas, Chief Manager, IFFCO, India; and Ms. Madushi Jayamali Kosgoda, Project Officer, NCCSL, Sri Lanka highlighted the inclusive role played by digital technology in bringing women from different backgrounds on a common platform and allowing them to participate at par with men. Access to educational opportunities around public health and upskilling were underlined as the most favourable opportunities for women that have opened after the COVID-19 pandemic.The discussions also touched upon micro-level advantages that can be leveraged by them for their betterment.

ICA-AP in collaboration with SEWA Cooperative Federation and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) organized a virtual dialogue on ‘Rebuilding an Inclusive World in the Wake of the Pandemic: Women Cooperatives Lead the Way’ as part of the week-long celebrations on National Cooperative week in India. Women in the informal economy have borne a disproportionate brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic due to the triple crisis of health, livelihood and additional care. The impact on them, socially, economically and politically, has reversed the positive effects of work over the past half-century in one fell swoop. While the world, by and large, resumed with the increasing availability of vaccines, women workers still struggled with the increased burden of care work, economic uncertainty, and a shrinking and consolidating labour market. The webinar was an opportunity for practitioners and thought-leaders from the social and solidarity economy (SSE) to come together, understand the data and brainstorm solutions to the challenges faced by women in the informal economy during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic (and associated lockdowns) across the world.

The first panel featuring Homenet South Asia, SEWA Cooperative Federation, and ICA-AP, presented the results of research studies into the impact of COVID-19 on informal women workers and their enterprises (both micro-enterprise and collective ones), focusing on contexts in India, South Asia and Asia. The second panel covered global experience with presentations by grassroots leaders from Nigeria, Nepal, the Dominican Republic, and India sharing their experiences of countering the socio-economic and health impact of the pandemic and steps that could be taken to hasten women’s recovery. The third panel was an opportunity for leaders to consolidate the learnings of the previous two panels into a more tangible roadmap for policy advocacy efforts in the coming years. The panel included Simel Esim from the ILO, Balasubramanian Iyer from ICA-AP and Mirai Chatterjee from SEWA Cooperative Federation. One of the key takeaways from this panel was the need to set an agenda for upcoming national and international conferences, including the ICA’s 33rd World Cooperative Congress (WCC), the ILO’s 2022 International Labour Conference (ILC), where SSE has been specially included as a discussion item to help better respond to COVID-19.