Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) - Empowering Women in India

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Case Details:

Case Code : LDEN029
Case Length : 09 Pages
Period : 1970-2004
Pub Date : 2004
Teaching Note : Available
Organization : Self Employed Women's Association
Industry : Service
Countries : India

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"From a miserable passive acceptance of all the injustices, SEWA women, by organizing themselves, have attained the courage to stand up and fight, the ability to think, act, react, manage and lead. Self-reliance is what they ultimately want. There is no development without self-reliance. But there is no route to self-reliance except by organization."

- Ela Bhatt, Founder of SEWA.1

Empowering Women

In August 2003, Reema Nanavaty, director of the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) signed an agreement with the Taj Residency Ummed2 (Taj) in Ahmedabad,3 India, to open an outlet of SEWA products within the premises of the Taj. This agreement would enable SEWA to target foreign tourists coming to India, in keeping with its strategy of targeting international markets for its textile and handicrafts products. Since its inception in the early 1970s, SEWA has been working towards organizing and empowering poor, self-employed women workers in rural and urban areas in India. SEWA has organized self-employed women from different trades and helped them get regular employment, easy access to credit, childcare, healthcare facilities, etc.

SEWA was more than an organization; it was a movement - a combination of labor, women and co-operative movements. According to Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA, "It took ten years to build an organization and twenty years to build a movement."4 SEWA was affiliated to HomeNet - the international network for home-based workers - and Streetnet International - an alliance of vendors & hawkers. These affiliations helped SEWA extend its movement to the international level. SEWA also received grants from the Government of India (GoI), The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)5, the Ford Foundation6, and the International Labor Organization7.

Formation of SEWA

In 1971, a few women handcart pullers approached Ela Bhatt (Bhatt), head of the Women's wing of the Textile Labor Association (TLA), in Ahmedabad, India, with problems like low and erratic wages, poor working conditions, etc. Bhatt was aware that most of the women did petty jobs, working as garment makers, vegetable vendors, handcart pullers, milkmaids, hawkers, etc., to supplement their family income. About 97% of the women lived in slums and 93% were illiterate. Bhatt soon realized that women employed in the informal8 sector were unorganized, unprotected, economically weak and had no bargaining power...

Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) - Next Page>>


2]  Taj Group is India's largest luxury hotel chain. It has hotels in the major cities in India. TajResidency Umeed is in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.

3]  Ahmedabad is the capital of western Indian state of Gujarat.


5]  UNICEF is the largest organization in the world working for children's rights, their survival, development and protection.

6]  The Ford Foundation aims at strengthening democratic values, reducing poverty and injustice, promoting international co-operation and advancing human achievement.

7]  The International Labor Organization is the UN specialized agency which seeks the promotion of social justice and internationally recognized human and labor rights.

8]  The informal sector includes those who work in small unregistered enterprises, both employers and employees, as well as self-employed persons who work in their own or family businesses.


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