Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president, spoke before a screen featuring a slide of an African woman, her face lined with worry. "These are the caretakers," he said.
WOCCU has long dealt with gender issues and how they relate to poverty. He has seen advances as financial services are opened to women in developing countries. Still, women do 50% of the work in the world, produce 50% of the food, but they own 1% of the property while generating 10% of the income.
Women provide the strength and survival of others, Branch said. He cited one African village of 2,500 people where 45 were orphaned by AIDS. The women take care of the orphans, including an eight-year-old girl, the sole caretaker of two younger siblings.
But he said he has seen economic gains that have increased women's sense of dignity and self-worth. Women are both a new source of business for developing credit unions and also become the employees and managers of these credit unions, he said.
This wasn't enough for Branch. Although women rose to upper management in the new credit unions, they often lacked colleagues to share ideas and experiences. Branch, the WOCCU, the Canadian Co-operative Association of Canada, and field workers in Peru and Chile saw a need to bring women together for a support group. Branch added they wanted a women's group and not a patrimonial-dominated group.
Susan Mitchell of Mitchell, Stankovic & Associates is also actively involved in the project. The objective of the group is to promote success, fund and harness real energies to improve the statistics, see credit unions grow without increasing costs and make sure that credit unions make an impact in both the developing and developed world.
Mitchell said she became involved with the group because she wanted to show respect for her mother, see new opportunities for her daughter and give hope to her future granddaughters and the mothers, daughters and granddaughters of other women.
The group will meet after the conference to formulate the next steps.