Increasing number of women is engaged in the management of agricultural cooperatives, with the number of female directors in JAs topping 1,000 for the first time in 2013. The next step is to improve the quality of female participation, focusing on everyday activities by women’s sections. The question is how to create a more attractive organization amid the aging of members and hand it down to younger generations. Participants – both experienced people and the young – of JA’s national meeting of women which starts on Monday, January 20 should share their opinions and goals, and work together to explore a new age of JA.
According to the Central Union of Japan Agricultural Co-operatives (JA-Zenchu), the number of female directors, management supervisory committee members and auditors totaled 1,117 as of the end of July 2013. The number of JAs which met the three major goals regarding female participation – women occupying 25 percent or more of JA members engaged in farming, women occupying 10 percent or more of representatives at a JA’s general meeting and having two or more female directors – increased to more than 50. As well as encouraging further female participation, it is vital to create an environment where such women can play an active part and to foster women who can succeed the task.
The decline in the number of members of JA’s women’s organizations is becoming a serious issue of concern. The number, which totaled roughly 3 million 50 years ago, has decreased to 640,000. The decline is attributable to activities being monotonous and lesser known, but the biggest reason is the aging of members. In order to promote younger generations to participate in JA activities, it is necessary to appeal to them through “Fresh Ms.” group activities and “women’s college” study programs, designed mainly for women in their 20s and 30s to get together and learn about agriculture-related issues.
Young women who moved in to rural villages after marrying farmers are unfamiliar with the place and do not have many acquaintances. Busy with farm work, household tasks and childcare, they tend to stay isolated, away from the community. But honestly speaking, they want to go out to learn new things and enjoy themselves. JAs should respond to their needs and open the door for them to participate in community activities.
As a matter of fact, there are some JAs which managed to attract young people through their group activities and study programs. They offer programs such as aromatherapy soap making, nail aesthetics, food education and cooking class for mothers and children. Childcare services are provided to make it easier for women with small children to participate. Participants say they can get rid of childcare stress and are happy to meet people of the same generation. Many of them feel they are benefiting from the activities which give them chances to receive advice from more experienced women farmers. Experienced women farmers are also inspired by communicating with younger women, which means the activities have helped deepen relationships among women of different generations.
JA’s national council of women’s organizations has set a slogan for its three-year plan – “JA women, let’s join our hearts, empower our present and hand it down to future generations!” Let all women, from women directors engaging in JA management to young people stepping out into the community through JA activities, join hands to create a comfortable rural community. Women’s views are vital in tackling issues closely related to everyday lives, such as elderly care, preserving local traditions, stregnthening local production for local consumption and food and agriculture education. JA’s national meeting of women should be the place to reaffirm the goals and make the next step forward.
(Jan. 20, 2014)