Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
- 05 Nov 2022
- 4 min read
Why in News?
Recently, Elaben Bhatt, renowned founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), passed away.
Who was Elaben Bhatt?
- She was a noted Gandhian, leading women’s empowerment activist.
- For her work, Elaben received numerous accolades and was conferred several national and international awards including Padma Bhushan, Magsaysay Award and the Indira Gandhi Sadbhavna Award.
- She was a Member of Parliament and of the Planning Commission of the Government of India.
- She used all these opportunities to bring about a structural improvement in the condition of Indian women.
- She joined the Textile Labour Association in 1955, a union that emerged after a textile strike led by Mahatma Gandhi in 1918.
- Ela Bhatt’s work at the women’s wing of the union and continuous interaction with women migrants in the textile sector led her to conceptualize the self-help group.
What is the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)?
- SEWA was born out of the Textile Labour Association (TLA) founded by Anasuya Sarabhai and Mahatma Gandhi in 1920 but it could not register as a trade union until 1972 because its members did not have an “employer” and were thus not seen as workers.
- In 1981, after the anti-reservation riots in which the Bhatts were targeted for supporting quotas for Dalits in medical education, the TLA broke up with SEWA.
- As early as in 1974, SEWA Bank was established to provide small loans to poor women.
- It is an initiative that was recognised by the International Labour Organisation as a microfinance movement.
- With an annual membership fee of just Rs 10, SEWA allows anyone who is self-employed to become a member.
- Its network is spread across 18 Indian states, in other countries of South Asia, in South Africa, and Latin America.
- It has helped rehabilitate women in personal, and even political or social crises, by empowering them through skilling and training.
- It simultaneously provided employment to women and promoted cooperative production, consumption and marketing of textiles which constituted the core of India’s industrialisation.
- It also decisively influenced the course of trade unionism and labor movement in India.
What are the Achievements of SEWA?
- The Unorganised Workers Social Security Act (2008), the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (2011), and the Street Vendors Act (2014), are seen as successes of SEWA’s struggle.
- The PM Street Vendors Atmanirbhar Nidhi (PM-SVANidhi) scheme is seen as being inspired by SEWA’s microfinance model.
- During the pandemic, SEWA launched Anubandh, an e-commerce platform to connect sellers with buyers, to keep kitchen fires burning through the lockdowns.
- The efforts of SEWA to change the lives of over 2.1 million members and many more around the world have long been recognised as a model for the world.