SEWA'S electronic newsletter
No. 15
March to May 2008
  • May Day
  • International Women’s Day
  • Shramik Mahotsav
  • SEWA goes to Mexico and Brazil with the President of India
  • SEWA in Afghanistan
  • Hands of Hope
  • Award for Lalithaben
  • Gondhiya Award
In the last quarter, SEWA celebrated the lives of women workers through two landmark days, May Day and International Women’s Day, and the SEWA Shramik Mahotsav.
May Day: Health workers
On May 1, SEWA, along with several organisations, organised a national consultation on traditional birth attendants (dais) in New Delhi. The National Rural Health Mission, an overarching public health policy, has virtually ignored the critical role played by dais in childbirth and community health. SEWA, recognising dais as women workers who selflessly serve their communities, has long organised them to build collective strength, demand recognition and to earn a sustainable income.

For two days, dais from 11 states across India came together in Delhi to mobilise for their recognition as health workers in national health programs. Recommendations included: organise dais at a national level; collect more evidence on their role; improve capacity building and standards; and advocate for programmatic and policy recognition. The outcomes of the meeting were presented to health policy makers and representatives of international organisations.
May Day in Madhya Pradesh: Street vendors, Construction workers and Forest workers

On 1st May 2008, SEWA MP took out a rally of street vendors in Bhopal to demand implementation of the National Policy on Street Vendors. Shikha Joshi, General Secretary SEWA MP said that the government had introduced a policy for street vendors two years ago. Yet so far, only 80,000 vendors – out of 4 lakhs vendors – have been identified and given Identity Cards. Most vendors are still being harassed by the authorities. A memorandum was handed over to the Urban Administration and Development Department, and the rally concluded with a play named Ek Tukda Jameen (A small piece of land) about the plight of the street vendors.

A state level workshop was organised for construction workers on 2nd May as part of May Day celebrations. The objective of the workshop was to raise awareness amongst officials of the State Construction Workers Board about the problems facing labourers, ın an effort to find solutions. Workers put their problems before Mr. Sarkar, the Board Secretary. The problems were almost the same in all districts. The problems include:

  1. Cards have not yet been made
  2. Contractors do not sign and seal papers
  3. Contractors do not maintain worker attendance records
  4. Insurance money has not been paid

A workshop was also conducted for approximately 250 forest workers on 2nd May. The Chief Guest of the Workshop was Mr. R. K. Dave, Managing Director, MP State Minor Forest Produce Federation. Mr. Dave declared an increment for tendu leaf bundles. The workers were pleased with an increase from Rs. 45 to Rs. 55 per 100 bundles.  Tendu leaf pluckers also placed their issues before Mr. Dave:

  1. Workers are not paid for trimming tendu trees
  2. Collection cards do not include family member information
  3. Workers earn lower than the declared wage
  4. Insurance claims are not processed
  5. Bonuses are not regularly distributed
  6. Bribery is common
International Women’s Day, Ahmedabad

To celebrate International Women’s Day In Ahmedabad, SEWA focused its attention on tomorrow’s members, adolescent girls. SEWA Academy organised an all day event to hear the voices, dreams and thoughts of our next generation.  While their voices reflect the changing hopes of a new generation, many of their struggles remain the same. Some girls shared:

Arti: One must have dreams, regardless of if they are fulfilled. I wanted to join the army, but I did not pass college. I don’t even know the procedure of how to join the army. So now should I dream a new dream? I now dream that by working, I’ll make my parents proud.

Manisha Parmar wants to become a doctor, despite the expensive education. The fact that educational institutes function like private businesses worries her. Thinking positively, she asserts that life isn’t only full of pain or broken hopes. There are also moments of happiness.

Ankita: I dream to study and to teach. I did well in my high school exams. But I did not have the financial capacity, or the family guidance and support to study further. Right now I am training in computer basics at SEWA Academy, while learning computer hardware and conducting tuitions elsewhere.  My message: If you have the opportunity, never let the opportunity to study pass you by.

Kankuben Parmar, a mother:  All four of my daughters have completed secondary school. My husband isn’t here. We live in a far off locality, where there is a lot of alcohol, and girls are harassed. I am sending my girls to college and to learn computers at the Academy so they can be self-reliant. I am trying my best to ensure that they progress.

International Women’s Day, London
Across the ocean in London, SEWA celebrated Women’s Day with supporters and friends at two special events. One World Action hosted a reception at the House of Commons in the British Parliament, and the International Trade Union Congress unveiled “Hands of Hope,” a photography exhibition of SEWA members across India.

At both events, Renanaben Jhabvala spoke to Members of Parliament, trade unionists and friends of SEWA on the struggle for an identity for women workers, particularly those in the informal economy. She shared SEWA’s experiences and challenges in organising women in a globalised India, and called attention to the international links of women workers’ struggles.
SEWA Mahotsav (Women Workers Celebration)
SEWA Bharat organised a 3-day celebration to bring together SEWA members from 11 SEWAs across 9 states of India. From March 25 to March 28, over 1,000 women workers met in Delhi. The Mahotsav was full of fun and games, traditional dance and singing performances, laughter and learning – a rare opportunity for women to enjoy time away from work to enjoy and share with each other.

Chief guest Ajay Maken, Minister of State for Urban Development, inaugurated the Mahotsav, expressing his happiness to be amongst SEWA members. Having supported the rights of vendors to market space, he pledged to continue to support women workers.

At the end of the Mahotsav, SEWA organised a rally on Parliament Street. SEWA presented a memorandum to the Prime Minister to place its demands which included: passing of the Social Security Bill for unorganised workers; a national bill for vendors; a bill for homebased workers; protection for construction workers and land rights for agricultural workers.
SEWA goes to Mexico and Brazil with the President of India
SEWA was a member of the official business delegation of the President of India, Ms. Pratibha Patil, during her state visit to Brazil, Mexico and Chile from 13th to 22nd April 2008. SEWA was represented by Gauriben Ramabhai Brahmin, Vice President of SEWA and an artisan, Reema Nanavaty, Director, Economic and Rural Development, and Mona Dave, CEO of SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre.

SEWA had meetings with the First Lady of Mexico, H.E. Mrs. Margarita Zavala de Calderon and Mrs. Rafaela Luft, Director of FONART. The Government of Mexico has shown active interest in a bilateral agreement with Government of India for partnership between FONART and SEWA, to initiate marketing of handicrafts between the two countries. The Government of Mexico may seek SEWA’s support in organizing women artisans/ producers and setting up Trade Facilitation Centres on the lines of SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre, which H.E. Mrs. Margarita Zavala had visited during her visit to India last year.

Two national round tables, one each in Brazil and Mexico were organized by the Indo-Brazil and Indo-Mexican Chamber of Commerce on “Women and Trade”, where heads of more than 20 national organizations and heads of Government agencies participated. The main objective of the round table was to address the issue of poverty through trade, achieve inclusive growth, and especially to learn from SEWA’s experiences from the SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre, RUDI and the Grassroots Trading Network. At the end of the round table, it was decided to set up Grassroots Trading Network for women in Mexico, under the aegis of Indo-Mexican Chamber of Commerce and SEWA.

Gauriben Ramabhai shared her experience – “Our lives earlier were very tough. Year after year we had to migrate and wander in search of work and income. But today, I am fortunate to share with you profile of my Company “STFC” of which I am a shareholder along with the other 15,000 women like me. In our company, we are the owners and managers. We plan, execute, control the quality of and also market our goods. But of every rupee, 60 paise comes back to us. Today I am here with you, H.E. President to explore the market in Mexico!”
SEWA in SAARC (South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation)

Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) jointly organized a successful seminar on homebased workers with SAARC and the Government of India in New Delhi on 14-15th May, 2008. This is the first time that SAARC has officially recognized home based workers and SEWA. The objective of the intergovernmental seminar was to facilitate policy dialogue on the issues facing home based workers, to work towards formulating policies at the national and SAARC level. 

The participants to the seminar were from governments of eight SAARC countries -  Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, along with HomeNets of India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The representatives from India and Nepal shared that their governments had started the process of formulating a National Policy. The other governments expressed positive reactions to the idea. The main achievements of the seminar were:

  1. Recognition of HomeNet South Asia and the country HomeNets as nodal agencies to represent home based workers in South Asia
  2. HomeNet and SEWA were asked to give a list of products to be included in SAFTA
  3. Homebased workers are to be included in trade promotion events.
The SAARC gender data base will be the resource centre for home based workers.
SEWA in Afghanistan
On invitation from the Government of India, SEWA will be conducting vocational training in garment design, food and fruit processing, and gardening to 1,000 poor, war-affected women in Kabul, Afghanistan. This past April, 32 Afghani women travelled to Ahmedabad to be trained as master trainers. SEWA will also expand the Rudi distribution network in Kabul. The SEWA team’s experiences show that women are largely widows or deserted, and are left to take care of families of 5-7 children. Despite harsh conditions and lack of employment, the women are confident and eager to embrace new skills. Next month, the master trainers will return to commence trainings at Bagh-e-Zenana, a women’s garden in Kabul.
“Hands of Hope” – A SEWA Photo Exhibition and Book
SEWA Bharat organised a photo exhibition, “Hands of Hope” in New Delhi and Ahmedabad with photographs taken by Sanjay Kumar, coordinator of SEWA Bharat. The photos – from the bidi rollers of Murshidabad, silk weavers of Bhagalpur to salt workers of Gujarat – reflect the joys and struggles of SEWA members across India. A collection of photos and women’s stories has been published as a coffee table book, and can be ordered from SEWA Bharat – mail@sewabharat.org.
Award for Lalithaben
Ms. Lalita Krishnaswamy, President of Gujarat State Women’s Cooperative was conferred “Kasturba Gandhi” IFJA Honour by the Indian Farm Journalists Association on April 18th at an Award function in New Delhi. She was honoured for her contribution as an eminent leader in empowerment of women through cooperatives.

Ms. Lalita Krishnaswamy has been associated with SEWA since over 30 years and was a founder of the Gujarat State Federation of Women’s Cooperative, sister organization of SEWA. She has served as Vice President to SEWA for 15 years.
Champaben Gondhiya Award for SEWA
Two SEWA organisers, Savitaben Patel and Heenaben Dave, have been awarded the Champaben Gondhiya Award in recognition of their social service for self-employed women. A total of seven women received this honour from the Young Men’s Gandhian Association of Rajkot.


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