Ela Bhatt graduated with a law degree in 1954, and joined the Textile Labour Association, a union founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1917. There she observed the conditions of the non-organized sector, primarily comprised of women, and decided to help organize them into unions. She is the recipient of the Magsaysay Award, the Right Livelihood Award and other national/international honours, and is a current member of the Council of Elders led by Nelson Mandela.
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- Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)
- Hybrid Social Enterprise
- Gender Parity; Entrepreneurship
- Areas of Impact
- South Asia, India
Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)
SEWA provides comprehensive support to poor, self-employed women. Its efforts over four decades to increase the bargaining power, economic opportunities, health security, legal representation and organizational abilities of Indian women have brought dramatic improvements to thousands and influenced similar initiatives around the globe.
Based in the Indian state of Gujarat, SEWA’s 1.3 million members include 700,000 women within the state, representing +100 informal trades, and an additional 600,000 members in 8 other states. It is the largest women’s union in India, offering its members an array of financial, health, childcare, insurance, legal, vocational and education services. Its members have created 103 cooperatives, over 3,000 producers groups, forged market links and enhanced bargaining positions.
These successful efforts increased members' employment income by 600% from 1994 to 1998. SEWA Bank, with 400,000 savers, has issued loans to thousands of members. To provide for members' healthcare, it helped start a health cooperative and developed an insurance programme that provides coverage for hospitalization, accidents and loss of life. A SEWA-affiliated team of 500 midwives and health workers serves the healthcare needs of 300,000 individuals, and the insurance programme has developed into the VimoSEWA cooperative, India’s first such national-level organization.
SEWA also uses video, telephone, computer and satellite communications to provide information technology to the working class. To address legal issues such as housing, wage disputes and other exploitative issues, it offers its members legal aid services. Currently, SEWA leaders dedicate their time to influence national and international policies that offer support to informal and self-employed workers globally.