Challenging Barriers to Women’s Leadership in Cooperatives

From the United States to many countries in Africa, one of the most detrimental shortcomings of agricultural cooperatives is their general lack of women’s leadership. The International Development division of Land O’Lakes, Inc. – a full-fledged development organization that currently works in 22 countries across Asia and Africa – has observed numerous barriers to women’s cooperative leadership. These barriers include limited literacy and numeracy skills, discomfort with public speaking, time constraints due to family obligations, and the general perception in many agricultural communities that leadership roles are for men. Despite the fact that women largely predominate in cooperative membership and meeting attendance, because of these obstacles, cooperative leaders tend to be men...

Land O’Lakes International Development projects from around the world provide additional evidence that women’s leadership is critical to cooperative success. In Kenya, for example, Mary Rono started the Koitogos Dairy Dynamic group in 2009 with 15 members. In just over two years, she successfully grew the membership to 350 farmers – and did so in a community that typically shuns female leadership. International Development worked with Mary during the five-year USAID Kenya Dairy Sector Competitiveness Program (KDSCP) and demonstrated key tools to her that she applied to help build her cooperative. Mary became a role model for women dairy farmers around the world when she spoke at the 2011 World Food Prize, where she talked about how she is “creating a new trend in her community of women in leadership, and peacefully bringing the local leaders to understand the value of women leaders in agriculture.”4 Mary’s story is one of many that demonstrate women’s abilities to effectively attract active cooperative members and to encourage communities to rethink traditional gender norms. 

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