Feminist leadership in the Social Solidarity Economies

Feminist leadership in the Social Solidarity Economies

Feminist leadership in the Social Solidarity Economies: Keys to socio-economic transformation through the creation of new identities

Collaborative document (REAS EuskadiRIPESS Europa, RIPESS Intercontinental) – Intervention at the side event: Women Leaders in the Social Economy at the European Social Economy Conference, San Sebastian, 14 November 2023.

This intervention aims to contribute elements for debate in the process of understanding the impact of the Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) on equality processes from an intersectional perspective and the importance of social processes with a gender perspective related to the SSE, especially when it comes to addressing the challenges of political advocacy and institutional support.

The contributions of this intervention are framed within the conference’s call for action to fulfil the potential of the major achievements of the Social Economy, which include the adoption of the United Nations Resolution of 18 April 2023 for the Promotion of the Social and Solidarity Economy and the European Action Plan for the Social Economy, as well as the need to strengthen the visibility of the collective, democratic and solidarity-based models of these entities. The intervention is made in two parts: the first one where we want to base the main challenges and challenges from an epistemological point of view on the role of women in the SSE, but also to contribute elements to the question of how to advance gender inclusion in the SSE; the second one, on the most significant contributions of the advance of gender inclusion from different SSE entities that are part of our network such as REAS Euskadi, REAS Estatal and RIPESS Europe and that have provided valuable contributions for the construction of this document in a collaborative way.

Social and solidarity-based entities and community-based organizations possess characteristics with considerable potential to help build feminist leadership. Women often have a greater presence in SSE organizations and enterprises and have assumed leadership roles in national, regional and international associations – SSE and the Challenge of Sustainable Development, UNTFSSE Position Paper, 2014.

Within this line, in recent decades, different voices and experiences have emerged that will strengthen feminism as a movement of diverse groups of people who wanted to restructure society globally along principles of economic, political and social justice, rather than simply as a movement of women seeking socio-economic equality with men (B. Barua, 2023). Thus, new types of inclusive, collaborative, collective feminist leaderships have grown up with a broad intersectional view, that is, they analyse the causes of oppression and violence, in this case economic, from different realities that start from discriminations against race, origin, gender, age, class, ethnicity and that produce and feed processes of precariousness and marginalisation of women and gender diversities. These feminist leaderships come with a strong questioning of the figure of power as it has been constructed until now, i.e. from authority. The power exercised from the top down – associated with capitalist growth without limits, typical of the hegemonic, patriarchal and capitalist model.

The SSE has an emancipatory potential in its conception that is nurtured when it is crossed by a gender lens. During the conference on the Potentials and Limits of the SSE, co-organized by the ILO and UNRISSD in 2013, it became clear that the term “Social and Solidarity Economy” is used to refer to a wide range of forms of production and exchange with common criteria and explicit economic and social objectives: reconnect economic activity with ethical values and social justice, aim to meet human needs, build resilience, expand human capabilities, empower women, foster workplace democracy and/or promote ways of living, production and governance that care for both people and the environment. Values and relationships associated with solidarity, cooperation, reciprocity and distributive justice typically characterize SSE. The theoretical appeal of SSE and its relevance to contemporary efforts to rethink development lies precisely in the way it lends itself to addressing multiple dimensions of development. It simultaneously fosters economic dynamism, social and environmental protection and socio-political empowerment – Conference: Potential and limits of SSE, UNRISSD and ILO, 2013.

Employment in SSE organizations can be particularly important for poor women who face discrimination in the labour market and work-family conflicts. SSE entities and organizations often facilitate flexibility in time management, offering opportunities for paid work that can be managed alongside the responsibilities associated with unpaid care work. In addition, much of the rise of social economy enterprises has focused on the provision of care and other services. Gaining voice and capacity for networking and advocacy has also been key to women’s emancipation and political empowerment, enabling them to renegotiate traditional gender relations and make demands on external institutions – Women’s Well-being and Empowerment, SSE and the Challenge of Sustainable Development, UNTFSSE Position Paper, 2014.

Today, the SSE has come to represent a persistent challenge to capitalist economies around the world. New solidaristic ways of being in the economy and doing life in the economy have been developing and spreading, creating new economic practices and institutions. These new ways of being and doing economics have been driven by the social justice movements of the late 20th century, including feminist, anti-racist, indigenous, LGBTQI+, environmental, labour, peasant and anti-corporate globalisation movements. (Matthaei, 2009) From the peasant movement, the perspective of food sovereignty and the alliance with ecofeminism, they propose the deconstruction of the patriarchal and capitalist gaze from various approaches and critically address the anthropocentric, ethnocentric and androcentric visions that have guided the economy and culture and made alternative socio-environmental processes invisible. (Soler-Montiel, Perez Neira, 2013) These approaches, these views have historically biased human relations and consequently economic models, giving way to the current prevailing model based on the exploitation of nature, on the way in which authority is exercised and on the colonialist perspective. Shifting our gaze away from anthropocentrism means focusing more on the effects that our economies have on nature and the planet and setting a limit to excessive degrowth. Nature is the seat of a view that is based on a cosmogonic vision associated with Pacha Mama, where it is the earth and the common and natural goods, water and air, that give us the possibility of life, always within limits that are on the verge of disappearing. The critique of the androcentric bias validates the feminine experience as an epistemological aspect by rescuing the feminine voice, or in any case, diverging from the dominant masculine gender. This vision helps us to question gender roles, for example the feminisation of the domestic and care space. Placing women in the home implies limiting their sphere of development, as well as devaluing the activities they carry out and delegating them to precariousness in the workplace. On the other hand, ethnocentrism places the Western cultural model as superior to any other and thus ignores ancestral peasant and indigenous knowledge, among others. The SSE as a systemic response approached from a gender perspective will undoubtedly challenge all these power relations. However, and this is where I would like to place special emphasis, especially in the context that we are in at this precise moment, the SSE is building an economic model far from gender violence, whose deep roots are associated with the biases that have been addressed. We are rebuilding economic models far from violence. The Social and Solidarity Economy as a project of social transformation must go beyond questioning a form of production and distribution that is unsustainable from a socio-environmental point of view and aim to change the way in which economic activities have been approached until now, considering the gender perspective in the SSE for an all-encompassing transformation.

Contributions of the SSE constructed from a gender perspective in Spain and Europe

In this second part we will indicate some of the contributions that have been generated from the SSE, especially in the context of the Basque Country, the Spanish State and to a certain extent in Europe when the gender perspective is approached with its scope, its challenges and its implicit challenges. In 2023, and for the second year running, there is no pay gap between women and men in SSE organisations in the Basque Country according to REAS Euskadi data. Furthermore, the gap in access to positions of responsibility has been reduced and this is the second year in which there is a higher percentage of women workers in positions of responsibility. However, there is still a gap in access to political posts and although the number of women accessing these posts is greater, if we weight the data we see that there is a greater chance of accessing these posts if you are a male worker – Social audit 2023, data from 2022.

According to REAS Euskadi data, out of 112 member companies and organisations (companies with the following main activities:

Women Men Non binary Total % Women
Workers 2.376 1.022 1 3.399 70%
Volunteers 2.392 868 2 3.262 73%
Partners (non-working) 10.022 12.351 6 22.379 45%
14.790 14.241 9 29.040 51%

A gap in participation also persists (although improving) as male SSE workers participate, in a higher percentage, in the elaboration of their organisation’s annual management plans and budgets.

Other interesting data that help us to look at the situation of women and diversity within the SSE in the Basque Country:

  • 71% of positions of responsibility are held by women and, for the second year running, there are more women workers in positions of responsibility (9.74%) than men (9.32%).
  • 57% of political positions (boards of directors, boards of trustees, boards of trustees, …) are held by women. Here we identify a gap as men are more likely than women to have access to political positions
  • 12% of women workers and 17% of men workers participate in the elaboration of the annual management plan and budget.

Women in the solidarity economy have been paid 2% more than men in 2022.

According to a study carried out by REAS Red de Redes (2021), the working conditions of women in the Social and Solidarity Economy in Spain are very favourable if we compare them with the data of the hegemonic economy. 64% of workers are women (43.5% in conventional companies). In the case of the Basque SSE, this percentage rises to 70%. In addition, a series of indicators show that entities make a real effort to ensure that the SSE creates egalitarian and respectful working environments for women (data from the Basque Country):

  • 99% use inclusive language
  • 65% have protocols for the prevention and tackling of sexual harassment, harassment based on sex, gender identity or sexual preference.
  • 83% generate spaces for emotional attention and care for workers.
  • 70% Entities that contemplate measures that improve the leaves established by law in terms of reconciling work and family life.
  • 63% Entities with an internal regulation for the improvement of working conditions
  • 85% Entities that have active measures focused on health promotion
  • 25% Entities with measures to encourage men in particular to take up work-life balance measures


REAS Euskadi has a group that works on the feminist proposal of the network: EkoSolFem (Economía Solidaria y Feminista) – REAS EUSKADI works to integrate a view towards diversity in the SSE movement, making sexual, orientation and identity diversity, functional diversity, culture and incorporating a view that takes into account the overlapping inequalities (class, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, functional diversity…) that make identities, living conditions and different (and unequal) positions in the socio-economic system more complex.

RIPESS Europe is currently conducting a survey on gender, intergenerational and origin participation to establish the balance not only of men, women and diversities, but also of young people and young women and diversities, as well as migrants who are in the SSE.


In the Basque Country, the reduction of these gaps between women and men and the improved situation of women in the SSE is the result of the work and commitment of SSE entities to build what have been called “Habitable Organisations“: organisations built under non-patriarchal and non-productivist perspectives. These organisations are defined by values such as collaboration; co-responsibility; care and the link between the individual and the collective; alternative ways of thinking about work and care; open, flexible, diverse, democratic; based on other forms of leadership; empowering participation; not only focused on results but also on reviewing and critically thinking about their ways of doing things and a long list of proposals that we are trying to give content to on a day-to-day basis.

In turn, RIPESS Europe has also been working over the last year on what is called “organisational culture”. As explained above, and given the patriarchal influence in today’s society, it is very likely that SSE organisations are permeated by its values. Changing the “organisational culture” and transforming it into a feminist and truly supportive environment is an often forgotten but crucial part of maintaining good relations and building a safer and friendlier working environment. The patriarchal values that this vision tries to address are structural and are part of a complex web, being present in the whole system (from political, to social, economic, cultural, etc.). Therefore, it is not an easy task, it requires a lot of reflection and commitment, bearing in mind that achieving change is not only a question of will, but also of time and resources.

RIPESS Europe has developed a document that serves as a starting point for building this space. This document includes resources, tips and questions that, in the form of a guide, can be used to diagnose our organisations. In addition, it also has a protocol against aggressions that was created with the aim of building a shared space of security and trust for all the people who are part of the organisation and aims to be a tool for individual and collective (self-)defence against the different oppressions and/or aggressions of the system that are manifested in our work spaces.

For its part, RIPESS Europe has a permanent Care Commission that has emerged as a strategic space to work on gender equality and care in the Social and Solidarity Economy, to make visible, give content and prioritise the demands and struggles in the transformative and political agenda of the solidarity economy. But also as a space for coordination to share the work that the different groups of the territorial networks are doing around gender equality and the tools that are being generated to address such complex but necessary issues as co-responsibility or the construction of more equitable, democratic and fairer organisations for women. This commission is also responsible for the application of the protocol and its revision, as it is not understood as a static document, but as something dynamic that can be modified and adapted to our learning.

RIPESS EU is also working on a project with Eastern European organisations called “HATI-SOS”. which addresses the issue of care from a broad perspective, including non-violent communication, conflict management, horizontal power sharing, facilitation of assemblies, etc. In short, a fundamental sphere that characterises the world of the Social and Solidarity Economy. Within the framework of this project, a book will soon be published that includes a series of workshops and activities to work on these issues and a cookbook with the aim of disseminating all the results. In addition, the gender agenda has established the urgent need to activate an intersectional decolonial perspective in all activities carried out by SSE organisations in the Global North.


The socialisation activities of reproductive work carried out by women’s groups seek not only to recognise its economic significance, but also its contribution to social cohesion and to the individual and collective growth of both the group and the community in which it lives. Collectively organised reproductive work provides learning, autonomy and sociability. Countless initiatives have taken place in different contexts and historical moments.

In Quebec, community nurseries are added to a series of community centres that support women in matters of housing, professional insertion and protection against domestic and sexual violence (Nobre and Guerín 2012). In the XES, the Xarxa de l’Economia Solidaria, one of its entities works only with migrant women who have managed to make the transition from the informal care economy to the organisation of a SSE cooperative, which promotes decent work and access to social protection for its members. According to various analyses that have been carried out by the solidarity economy movement , women who participate in solidarity economy groups value the possibility of organising their time and the understanding of the other members when at a certain moment one of them needs to reduce her participation in order to care for a sick family member. At the same time, however, they report that other family members end up transferring the entire responsibility for care to them, as they are able to reconcile it with paid work. Thus, it remains a challenge for all solidarity economy initiatives – beyond women’s groups – to provoke and realise other forms of articulation between production and reproduction. This has not yet become a criterion for evaluating the degree of solidarity of the enterprises, as proposed in Luiz Inácio Gaiger’s analysis.

Women’s groups in the solidarity economy also constitute a space for intermediation between the state, the market and the family. In the first instance, they seek to build, in the territories where they are located, solutions and attempts at new relationships between women and men. They establish a justice of proximity where access to rights is concretised in the daily life of their communities through the expression of interests and negotiation between those who live there. For example, in settlements and networks for the production and consumption of agricultural products in countries of the global South, and also in some local experiences, it has been possible to include in their collective agreements the rejection of domestic violence, leading to the expulsion or suspension of aggressors.

Women’s participation in productive groups reinforces or opens the way for their involvement in social movements and articulations. The productive groups that come together in the solidarity economy movement organise demands to the state regarding subsidies, regulatory frameworks, public procurement, among others. They expand the notion of citizenship and access to rights that in our society are still associated, most of the time, with formal employment. For example: women in soup kitchens in Peru demand a wage for their work from the state, or at least the payment of a pension and social security benefits; women producers’ cooperatives in West Africa demand rights and support from municipalities and central government beyond a fair price for their products. Women’s groups distributing milk in Peru, for example, were very active in the struggle against the free trade agreement with the USA, which prevents the direct and subsidised purchase of milk produced by peasant communities.

The solidarity economy remains in traditional communities (indigenous, peasant…) when they organise the work and management of the territory with respect for everyone and for nature. Solidarity economy practices expand and organise life in the urban world in times of crisis and rupture of the capitalist economy, when the market and the state do not respond to the daily needs of a large part of the population. Experiences such as soup kitchens, time banks, collective housing, self-management in recovered factories are found in countries in the South and North, involving a large number of women.


Invitation to support the feminist strike on November 30

The Basque feminist movement platform “Denon bizitzak erdigunean” (The life of all of us in the centre) has called a general feminist strike for the 30th of November in the Basque Country. The SSE movement has been denouncing for some time that the socio-economic and care crisis we are going through is rooted in the current unsustainable and fragile economic model supported by an invisible face of unjustly distributed care. We need a structural adjustment to put the socio-economic system at the service of life. And here care can function as a policy to guide this necessary transition in two ways:

  • A reorganisation of socially necessary jobs
  • The replacement of the public-private logic with a public-social-community logic.

This care crisis gives us the opportunity on a planetary scale to revalue the world of the public, of the commons, of solidarity and to contribute to a new socio-economic model that places care and the sustainability of life at the centre of all its decisions and analyses. REAS Euskadi -Red de Economía Alternativa y Solidaria- has drawn up 10 proposals and a final note to contribute to the definition of a care policy that puts collective life at the centre. Life at the centre: 10 proposals to confront the necessary transition of the care model.

In processes of struggle of medium duration, such as prolonged strikes or the mobilisation against the coup in Honduras, women’s participation in strike funds and community kitchens is essential for the persistence, the conditions for negotiation and the very success of the mobilisations. These experiences form a political economy of resistance that owes much to women’s experience in collective food production, in responding to the daily needs of people in working-class neighbourhoods affected by unemployment or the absence of the state.

In a combination of analysis and practice, the solidarity economy, in dialogue with feminist economics, opens up the possibility of overcoming fragmentations between production and reproduction, between the political and the economic, and its practices are constituted as a political economy of resistance.


  • SSE and the Challenge of Sustainable Development, UNTFSSE Position Paper, 2014.
  • Conference: Potential and limits of the SSE, UNRISSD and ILO, 2013
  • Gender and Empowerment, Bipasha Barua, 2023, Chapter 30, Encyclopedia of the Social and Solidarity Economy
  • Feminist Economics, Suzanne Bergeron, Chapter 5, Encyclopedia of the Social and Solidarity Economy
  • Women’s self-help groups, Christabell, Chapter 22, P.J. Encyclopedia of the Social and Solidarity Economy
  • Por una recampesinización ecofeminista, superando los tres sesgos de la mirada occidental, 2013, Marta Soler-Montiel, David Perez Neira

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