Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
SEWA’s main goals are to organise women workers for full employment. Full employment means employment whereby workers obtain work security, income security, food security and social security (at least health care, child care and shelter). SEWA organises women to ensure that every family obtains full employment. By self-reliance women should be autonomous and self-reliant, individually and collectively, both economically and in terms of their decision-making ability.
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SEWA grew out of the Textile Labour Association , TLA, India’s oldest and largest union of textile workers founded in 1920 by Anasuya Sarabhai. The inspiration for the union came from Mahatma Gandhi. The ideological base provided by Mahatma Gandhi and the feminist seeds planted by Anasuya Sarabhai led to the creation by the TLA of their Women’s Wing in 1954. Its original purpose was to assist women belonging to households of mill wokers and its work was focussed largly on traning and welfare activities. By 1968, classes in sewing, kniting embroidery, spinning, press composition typing and stenography were established in centres throughout the city for the wives and daughters of mill workers.
By 1970 however, relations had soured with the TLA over women’s working rights, leading to the creation of SEWA in December 1971. SEWA grew continuously from 1972, increasing in its membership and including more and more different occupations within its fold. The beginning of the Women’s Decade in 1975 gave a boost to the growth of SEWA, placing it within the women’s movement. In 1977, SEWA’s General Secretary, Ela Bhatt, was awarded prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award and this brought international recognition to SEWA.
SEWA provides the following services for poor women: savings and credit, health care, child car, insurance, legal aid, capacity building and communication services. SEWA has helped women take a number of initiatives in organising these services for themselves and their SEWA sisters.
Swashrayi Mahila Sewa Sahakari Bank is SEWA members’ largest cooperative, the first of its kind in India. The bank is owned by the self-employed women as share holders; policies are formulated by their own elected Board of women workers. SEWA Bank was established in 1974 with 4000 members each contributed Rs.10 as share capital. Today there are 93,000 active depositers. In 1999, SEWA Bank celebrated 25 years of providing financial services to poor, self-employed women. Always in debt, our members initially raised the issue of their need for credit so as to free them from the clutches of money-lenders and traders, to enhance their businesses, build up assets in their own name, for children’s education, for the several emergencies including illness that they face and many other purposes.
SEWA has helped its members obtain health care which is run by women themselves. Our approach emphasizes health education as well as curative care. It also involves coordination and collaboration with government health services for immunization, micronutrient supplementation, family planning, tuberculosis control and referal care at public hospitals, dispensaries and primary health centers.
SEWA provides childcare through its cooperatives & local organisations.
Work Security Insurance
SEWA started an integrated insurance scheme to support women in times of crisis. Operative since 1992 in collaboration with our nationalised insurance companies, it has demonstrated that insurance for the poor can be run in a self-reliant and financially viable way.
SEWA has been providing legal education and support in court cases to its members. They have been running a legal advisory centre at SEWA which accepts cases and complaints lodged by members.
Capacity building of SEWA Members
SEWA Academy is the focal point for workers’ education and capacity-building. The Academy stresses the self-development of the worker in order that her talents may be encouraged and developed, and she develops self-confidence and leadership skills. It is also the means by which SEWA unites its large and diverse membership through common ideology.
- Women and the Informal Economy