“Like many people, I chose to be part of the solution and to participate in networks to make a difference” Interview with Ethel Côte

This post is also available in: French, Spanish

Expert in social and solidarity economy with a gender perspective, member of the Canadian Network for Community Economic Development, administrator on the first board of directors of RIPESS, referent of SSE PG at Quartier du Monde, teacher at the School of Social Innovation.

 

Why did you get involved in SSE?
At the age of 13, I joined a Caisse Populaire and I have been a member ever since.
At a very young age, I had children and experienced poverty. It was through solidarity that I came out of it. I first discovered the associative movement, women’s self-help organizations and cooperation. I lived in a housing cooperative and in a neighborhood food cooperative. Then I worked in the associative movement in various sectors of activity. One thing led to another and I found myself director of the Conseil de la coopération de l’Ontario, an organization that was inactive at the time but which we revived. It was then that I became aware of the whole cooperative movement and community economic development, but of the invisibility of women and the inequalities in a movement that claims inclusion and equality. Like many people, I chose to be part of the solution and to participate in networks to make a difference. For 25 years, we have been creating gender-responsive services and programs. I have been a member of CCEDNet since its inception and have been active on committees and the board for a number of years. I have always been involved in SSE initiatives, from the local to the global level. This is certainly the reason why I found myself representing Canada on the first RIPESS Board of Directors.

 

Could you tell us about women’s participation in the SSE in your country?
In Canada, as in all countries of the world, women involved in the social and solidarity economy are very active. They create and manage collective enterprises in various sectors of activity, in both rural and urban areas. They continue to advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment in their collective enterprises, in society and also in the cooperative, social economy and community economic development movements.
We note that, for several years, several intermediaries have been questioning their support, training and financing services in order to adapt them to better support women’s Social and Solidarity Economy initiatives.
We have multiplied the spaces for debate, awareness-raising and learning within the framework of major conferences: RCDEC congresses, FIESS, GSEF, and even since 2005, during the major conferences on the globalization of solidarity organized by RIPESS, to denounce, reflect, propose and act.

 

What are the major challenges that you see as slowing down the path towards effective equality between women and men?
I am convinced that, despite the important role played by women in business movements and practices, equality between women and men has not yet been achieved, especially in terms of equal pay, diversity of career choices or access to economic and political resources. We are more visible yet invisible. The realities we face are often omitted or dealt with outside the exchange sessions initiated by our networks, whether sectoral, provincial, national or international, of the social and solidarity economy.
But for some time now, I have noticed that openness and listening are more present than ever and the commitment of many, women and men, who are concerned about these fundamental issues and who act to implement solidarity practices and structure strategies that promote gender equality and the economic autonomy of girls and women here and elsewhere.
In my part of the world, in French Ontario, despite the lack of resources, we are organizing. We are working on all fronts and we are condemned to solidarity if we want to change the situation. We are increasing the spaces for training in SSE with a gender perspective and the number of participants continues to grow with each meeting. We will collaborate with our English-speaking sisters, within WOSEN, to benefit from additional resources, which has allowed us, among other things, in collaboration with a dozen French-speaking organizations, to offer a new SSE training program in French with a gender perspective.
Surely, the trajectory that I have had the privilege of living within Quartier du Monde and the Femmes du Monde network, as a reference in SSE with a gender perspective, has allowed me to strengthen my own skills and to propose these resources, carefully co-constructed by some sixty women from several countries, in our French-ontane collectives.

What advantages do you see in local organizations belonging to global networks?
We all want to change the system, change the situation, propose an economy with a human face, create decent jobs, promote the autonomy of women and all those marginalized by the systems… well, I have learned through my small and large experiences of solidarity that together we go further and we are stronger. I believe and have always believed in this networking and in the importance of weaving links between all practices, concepts and this economy that is a real alternative to the dominant economy.
Also, I live in a minority community, and that said, living in French is a daily struggle. We won our schools, we won our hospital, we won our university and our colleagues because we walked together, because we took the government to court, because we stood together. In the business arena, I have always believed that there too we could unite to create collective wealth, more decent jobs, revitalize our towns, etc.

 

How do you perceive the impact of Covid-19 in the women’s situation?
Already in a context of globalization and several economic and social crises, women were particularly affected. In times of pandemic, this great human crisis is even more difficult for women of all ages.

As we know, women are in the majority in associations, cooperatives and social economy enterprises. They work hard at it and many of these structures have had to close their doors, which has a direct impact on the income and quality of life of women and families. Basic services have been disrupted. Domestic violence has increased on all continents and also in our country.

Many women already had double or triple jobs. Even today, there is still no recognition of reproductive work in society and in our SSE movement. In times of pandemic, women are always on the front line, now with 4 or 5 times more family chores, work, with children at home full time for several months, etc.

More than ever cooperation is important in these difficult times and SSE has the potential to offer a people and planet centered recovery with its models of collective organizations and responsible production of goods and services.

Ripess
RIPESS is a worldwide network of continental networks promoting the Social Solidarity Economy, in order to transform our economy by putting people and the planet at the center of our activities.