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Dear cooperators in the Asia and Pacific region,



Greetings from the ICA-AP Committee on Women!



March 8 is the International Women’s Day (IWD) to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The theme for this year’s IWD is “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality”. It focuses on the impact of the digital gender gap on widening economic and social inequalities and the importance of protecting women and girls in digital spaces.



When I was reflecting on this theme, I was taken back to the period of the early 2000s when computers and the internet were making a gradual entry in our lives. Those who were already in their adult life at that time were faced with a new challenge – to either adapt or get left behind. Today, we live in a new, ultra-modern, and a hi-tech world, where all these are part of our daily lives and there is hardly a way that we can imagine ourselves to be living without them. Having said this, while the penetration of innovation, technology, and digitalization is not uniform across countries and among different socio-economic communities, it won’t take long before we all are taken into the fold through awareness, access and usage.



Bringing women and other marginalized groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality. However, growing inequalities are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technologies, with women being left behind as the result of this digital gender divide. The need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is crucial for a sustainable future.



Within the Asia and Pacific cooperative ecosystem, we often hear different terms being used - digitalization, digital innovation, digital inclusion, digital finance, digital media, digital platforms, e-commerce, so on and so forth. Driven by evolving member needs, increasing competition in the market, changing business goals, and external shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic, cooperatives in Asia and Pacific are adopting innovation, technology and digitalization. For example in India, the National Cooperative Union of India (NCUI) has set-up a marketing platform for women called the NCUI HAAT. The NCUI HAAT provides design support and market linkages to women-led cooperatives through tie-ups with the Fashion Design Council of India and the National Institute of Fashion Technology. In the Philippines, a payment platform has been developed by the National Confederation of Cooperatives (NATCCO), Asian Confederation of Credit Unions (ACCU) and the Philippines Federation of Credit Cooperatives (PFCCO). Among the many benefits that the Kaya payment platform provides, it has made it possible for women in rural areas to receive cash from government payouts through Kaya POS. The funds are transferred by the government to cooperatives using Kaya POS, helping women to not queue up for months to get their money. Members of our Women’s Committee have from time to time shown us many examples of the measures that their cooperatives have taken and all are worth noting. For example, switching to virtual trainings and meetings, switching to online retail businesses, creating and promoting payment platforms, use of software to maintain credit and savings records, etc.



But the use of innovation, technology and digitalization is costly. Cooperative enterprises are sufficiently endowed to bear monetary costs for the advancement of business and the betterment of members and staff. And other than the monetary costs, the reluctance on part of cooperative leaders and management to invest, the hesitation on part of cooperative members and staff, especially women, to learn and adapt, and the limited understanding of why and how women can benefit from technology, innovation or digitalization, add to a much higher cost. These costs are more social than financial and related to behavioural change.



My main message to all cooperators in Asia and Pacific on this International Women’s Day is to think collaboratively and creatively on how much we - the women, overall cooperative community and our cooperative businesses can benefit if we work on three main areas – our reluctance, our hesitation, and our understanding. I would also like to urge cooperatives in the region to reflect on how we can make the most of the innovations, technology and digitalization happening around us and use it to our advantage – for the benefit of our business, members, staff, our own selves, communities and economies.



In the context of my message here, we held an online lecture on 7 March to understand why digital inclusion is important for women in cooperative businesses; is digital inclusion enough to make women feel empowered; and how we can protect women’s rights and safety in the digital spaces. The insights shared in the lecture have given us all food for thought and ideas for future action. I strongly believe in the saying that “Where this a will, there is a way”. I am hopeful that with my message here, we can work on our collective will towards the agenda of “DigitAll” for gender equality and a brighter future of cooperatives in Asia and Pacific.



Best wishes,

Chitose Arai,


Chairperson, ICA-AP Committee on Women