managed by R. Anand
The Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) is a trade union of women workers in India’s unorganised sector. Founded by Ela Bhatt in 1972, SEWA has over 1.1 million members in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala, and Uttarakhand. SEWA Bharat is a national federation that supports the development of SEWAs, with a focus on building a movement of women workers.
SEWA’s main goals are to achieve self-reliance for women workers and their families. Over the past three decades, SEWA has organised women into unions, community-based organisations, self-help groups and cooperatives, building their solidarity and collective strength. Access to savings and credit emerged early on as a priority for low-income women, a need to which SEWA Bank and micro-finance activities across India cater. SEWA’s micro-finance programs are strengthened by employment generation activities, which together provide women with an enhanced opportunity to be financially self-reliant. Having learned that income security is incomplete without basic social protection and in the absence of effective government programs, SEWA delivers some social security benefits to workers, including insurance, childcare and health services.
SEWA’s greatest success has been in establishing women-led, community-based organisations that promote economic and social empowerment. SEWA-promoted credit and savings groups and women-owned cooperatives for various forms of production have been able to thrive after initial support and facilitation. It has also established training institutes to build the capacity and skills of workers in fields such as construction, management and health services.
SEWA is a voice for its members. It voices the needs and aspirations of women in the informal economy and lobbies for laws, policies and schemes for their benefit. It has been successful in persuading Central, State and local Governments to pass laws and policies in favour of low-income and vulnerable women workers.