SEWA
Self Employed Women’s Association
 
 
February 2007
 
  2006: A Year of Growth And Achievement
  Prime Minister of India agrees to National Policy for Homebased workers
  SEWA Team Invited to Kabul
  Ela Bhatt Conferred - a Series of Awards
  Continuing Repression from the Government of Gujarat
 
2006: A Year of Growth And Achievement

There was great jubilation at SEWA’s annual general meeting held between 10th and 12th January in Ahmedabad when it was announced that SEWA’s national membership has now grown to 9,65 000. There was a growth of membership in Gujarat, in spite of the continuing repression from the State Government. Large increases in membership came from Madhya Pradesh, while the States of Bihar, Delhi, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh also showed considerable growth.

Many achievements were reported during the meeting: SEWA's victory in legal battle for vegetable vendors in High Court of Gujarat and legal space for over 10,000 vendors in Indore, getting identity cards for paper picker women, continuing popularity for SEWA insurance, the launching of a new pension schemes by SEWA Bank, continuing success of the Sajeevika programme and several national and international awards given to SEWA and its founder Elaben

The Founder of SEWA Madhya Pradesh Smt. Manorama Joshi was honoured with a special life-time achievement award. She was a housewife when she started SEWA taking inspiration from Elaben 22 years ago. She first organized bidi workers and then went to the forests of Madhya Pradesh to organize the forest produce collectors. She has shown immense courage in facing employers, contractors and even dacoits while fighting for the rights of SEWA members. She welded the large membership of SEWA into one family regardless of caste and religious differences and has won the hearts of all, even her opponents with her own large heartedness.

The 1100 trade council elected leaders of SEWA spent one day discussing the future of SEWA given the huge challenges from the rapid takeover of the economy by large companies and a hostility of Government to organizations of the poor. There was a great deal of discussion on retail trade in which major companies like Reliance and Subhiksha are planning a network of supermarkets in cities, and contract farming in the rural areas. This poses a challenge to the street vendors on the one hand and the co-operatives of farmers on the other. The Street vendors said that they could compete with these supermarkets, but by denying them space to sell, the Government was denying them a level playing-field for competition. On the other hand the farmers groups of SEWA members, which have been formed to ensure a fair price for their produce, may be destroyed by the collection centers that are being planned by the big companies.

The strength of SEWA in dealing with challenges has always been it’s values. Historian Achyut Yagnik who was the guest speaker at the meeting, said that SEWA’s values of integration and unity of all religions and castes, and its value of keeping the poor at the centre has been its main strength. He said that when the history of Gujarat is written SEWA will be one of the milestones. Elaben called upon SEWA to grow big enough to remain stable in the changing global scenario, keeping their collective strength and values and harmonious relations with each other intact. Addressing SEWA leaders representing its huge membership from all over the country in a brainstorming session, Ela Bhatt said the SEWA women have to identify their real strength which comes from their values and harmonious relationship with each other

Prime Minister of India agrees to National Policy for Homebased workers

The Prime Minister of India inaugurated a conference on Women Homebased Workers in South Asia which had been organized by SEWA along with UNIFEM. He said, “I have always been inspired by the work of Elaben and SEWA in empowering women….. Estimates suggest that there are around 50 million home based workers in South Asia, and most of them happen to be women. ..Unfortunately, most homebased workers receive very low levels of income due to a chain of middle-men through whom they work. …… In October 2000, the UNIFEM Conference on the rights of South Asian home based workers adopted the Kathmandu Declaration. …I would like the SAARC Summit in New Delhi to consider the Kathmandu Declaration and address effectively the problems of homebased workers…… Our Government will be happy to take forward the National Policy for India as well as to facilitate the programme for countries of South Asia.”

Elaben reminded the conference of the long journey and struggle of the homebased workers including the struggle for passing the ILO Convention 177. She especially highlighted the need for social security and reminded the Government of its commitment to the Social Security Bill for workers in the informal economy.

The Conference was attended by over 200 homebased workers (on the first day) and delegates from Governments, HomeNets and members of civil society from Bangladesh (5) , India (35), Nepal (10), Pakistan(11) and Sri Lanka (9); delegates from international agencies like ILO, Ethical Trading Initiatives (ETI) and WIEGO gave their expertise. The conference focused on protecting homebased workers through ratification of ILO Convention 177, increasing incomes and employment through trade and empowerment through organizing in HomeNet.

Homenet South Asia was formally launched by Indian Cabinet Secretary Shri B.K. Charurvedi with flowers, balloons and singing of “We Shall Overcome” in 5 languages. The Conference approved the South Asia Platform of Action for Homebased Workers (Website link).

SEWA Team Invited to Kabul

SEWA team visited Kabul on invitation of Government of India, and Government of Afganistan. The team was entrusted with the task of identifying and availing the opportunities of livelihood. SEWA has formulated an action plan to provide skills and employment to the women of Afghanistan and to develop Baugh-E- Janana (park for women) as a resource center for women.

Ela Bhatt Conferred - a Series of Awards

Ela Bhatt, the founder of SEWA was conferred upon with a series of awards round the year. The year closed with Satpal Mittal National Award being conferred upon Ela Bhatt. She was also honoured with Creative Madrid Award. She received this award from queen of Spain. CNBC honoured Ela Bhatt with Business Award for small enterprises.

Continuing Repression from the Government of Gujarat

The Government of Gujarat continues its policy of attempting to intimidate and break SEWA. Its attacks come at three levels. First, it ensures that any one in any way connected with SEWA is deprived of all Government benefits. Just one example out of many is the Sangini Co-operative which was sponsored by SEWA over 20 years ago and has been functioning as an independent co-operative of child care providers. Its funds come partly from fees from mothers, partly from donations from local traders and employers, and mostly from the Integrated Child Development Scheme of the Government of India (ICDS).

The Government of Gujarat, through whom the ICDS funds are received, suddenly decided to stop all assistance and Sangini was informed that overnight it would no longer receive these funds for the nutrition of the children aged a few months to five years, and for the salaries of the teachers. The teachers of Sangini say, “ We will work without salaries but we will continue”, and the mothers say, “We will send food from home, it may not be as nutritious as government food, but it is what we can afford”. Their morale is high, but for how long and what will happen to the children who already start off malnourished?

Second, the Government continues its attempts to directly break the SEWA membership by creating fear and mistrust. A recent incident: after the earthquake of 2001, SEWA had reconstructed about 5000 houses for its members. Each village set up a Village Committee which formed a Village Shelter Fund for the upkeep and maintenance of the reconstructed houses. This fund from every village was deposited in the local nationalized Bank and was in the custody of the local village committees. There was a fraud in the bank and someone has wrongly withdrawn the funds from nine village accounts. With this sudden withdrawal of fund – built from the hard earned income of the poor families, the village group leaders were shocked. In the meeting, the women were clueless and at a complete loss….” What are we punished for? Who could have forged the signatures and thumb impressions?”.

Although SEWA is not a signatory or in any way involved in the accounts, the local village and district political leaders have become active. They misguide the SEWA members that tell them that SEWA must be involved in the fraud, it cannot be the bank alone. They urge them to complain to the police against the leaders and workers of SEWA so as to create an atmosphere of distrust and fear. SEWA has negotiated with the bank on behalf of the village committees and the bank has re-deposited the money in the account pending investigation, however the local political leaders continue to spread falsehoods about SEWA.

Finally, the Government continues its campaign to discredit us in the public domain. An example: the independent central auditor the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), has started an audit of the accounts of Government of Gujarat for the Jeevika project, from which SEWA had withdrawn due to harassment. The CAG raised certain queries from the Government of Gujarat about the project and instead of passing the queries on to SEWA for answering, the Government released them to the press as if they were “indictments” of SEWA. Although the newspapers did ask us for our version we were unable to say anything as we had not even seen those queries. Nevertheless a news report was published in the papers.

We are often asked why the Government of Gujarat is so angry with us. We do not know, as we were never given any reason. We can only speculate that the Government does not like a growing empowered organization of poor working women who believe in the Gandhian ideology of unity across castes and religions.
 
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Self Employed Women's Association
SEWA Reception Centre, Opp. Victoria Garden, Bhadra, Ahmedabad - 380 001. India.
Phone : 91-79-25506444 / 25506477 / 25506441, Fax : 91 - 79 - 25506446, Email :mail@sewa.org
     
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