Self Employed Women’s Association
  No. 2 March 2005
Awards and felicitations
SEWA Wins High Court Case On the Way to Becoming A Central Trade Union February 10,2005 SEWA took birth from Textile Labour Association, a trade union in Gujarat, and registered as a Trade Union following Gandhian principles in 1972. SEWA was a member of a Central Trade Union called National Labour Organisation (NLO) which had representation in Delhi. However, in 1981 SEWA was expelled from the TLA and the NLO. Although we were invited to join other Central Trade Unions, we decided to struggle on our own. Over the years we have grown in size and today we have more nearly 700,000 members in seven states of India.

In 2004, the Government of India issued a notification inviting application as a Central Trade Union Organisation, the criteria was that the trade union should have more than 500,000 members in four or more states and four or more industries. We applied to become a Central Trade Union Organisation but we were rejected for verification on the grounds that we were not registered as trade union in four states, although our members were in seven states. When we approached the Government of India,, we were told that this was decided by a Standing Committee consisting of a Central Labour Commissioner and twelve trade unions, who are themselves to be verified! The same people who feel they are competing with us are deciding whether we are to be verified or not! We had nowhere to appeal so we went to the Delhi High Court.

We argued that we fulfilled all the criteria for becoming a Central Trade Union. SEWA was registered as a Trade Union with National jurisdiction in 1972, our members could come from anywhere in the country. Later, as membership in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh was increased, SEWA MP and Self Employed Women’s Union, UP was registered and affiliated with SEWA. Totally we had 687000 members in seven states and more than fourteen industries. There was nothing in any of the Government orders or letters which required registration in four states.

We argued that ours is a different type of trade union. Other Central Trade Unions join many small trade unions together and make one big federation. In our case we have one big national trade union and two State trade unions. SEWA has direct members as well as affiliated members. We are a Trade union of informal sector workers and we prefer to be together in one union for the following reasons:

    1. Members do not have only one trade but can have many different trades at one time.. It is much better to have only one union to whom all can belong and not many small unions.
    2. Unlike factory workers they are not stationary in one place of work, but often travel. If she leaves one place she should not lose membership of her union.
    3. Women in the informal sector are very vulnerable and weak. They are often afraid to join a Trade union as they may lose their work and face opposition of family members and social ostracism also. It is easier for them to join a large Trade union like SEWA which has a name and a reputation, where they see lakhs of other women like themselves and which has the capacity to fight their battles for them. Furthermore their family members often support them if they join a large and reputable organization.
    4. Women in the informal sector, having had little exposure and little education and training often do not have the capacity to run a trade union on their own. On joining a large trade union like SEWA they get training and capacity building and are able to run their own affairs
    5. Belonging to a large trade union they are able to get voice and be heard. As members of small local unions they would be ignored.
    6. In fact women in the informal economy have no history of organizing. Unlike men in formal sector and in factories, these women have no history of unionization and so take a long time to learn and to make themselves familiar with the benefits of organizing.
    7. Being women they prefer to cling together and get strength from one another.
The judge asked the Government lawyer “Where is it written that trade union is to be registered in 4 states” But the Government lawyer could not show any document where it was written. The judge said to the Government lawyer, “ SEWA is an organisation who has made our country proud. Don’t you want them to be represented in your national and international committees?.”

The judge gave the final order, that registration in 4 states is not required. He ordered the Government to immediately start the process of verification and to give the results to the court in six weeks. It was a great victory for us!

From Visibility to Voice to Representation
We have pride & joy in our victory. The unorganized sector workers have in last 3 decades have moved from visibility to voice and now representation.

The women have taken leadership in this forward move as they had taken the lead in ILO convention on Homework and in Resolution on Informal Economy.Gandhi said that in a fight for social justice, where weapons are peace and truth,women are the natural leaders- such is our experience throught in SEWA. My joy of the victory is for the sustained loyal efforts of SEWA sisters in mobalizing membership and my senior collegues, devoted and competent to pursue the right of verification. Thanking you all for your continued support in strengthening SEWA's status as a labour union.

Ela R. Bhatt

A Cross-sectional View of SEWA's Membership

With a humble start in 1972,SEWA has grown in to a massive membership based organization.A cross sectional view of SEWA's membership provides evidence to this fact.
SEWA's Total Membership:  6,88,683
State wise Membership
Name of State Members
Guajrat             468385
Madhya Pradesh 166223
Bihar 2728
Uttar Pradesh 51728
Delhi 847
Rajashthan 500
Kerala 1000
Total 688683
Urban - Rural Membership (Gujarat)
Urban    147079     31.40%
Ruarl 311306 68.60%
Total 468385 100%
Trade wise Membership (Gujarat)
Trade Members Percent
Vendors 29730 06.37
Producers 43041 09.20
Homebased workers 84917 18.13
Labour & Services 310597 63.30
Total 468385 100

SEWA's Annual General Meeting:
Women Reach Markets Directly

January 4-6, Ahmedabad
I work I work for my family
I work for my village
I work for my nation
I contribute to the market economy
I feel empowered

Every year in the month of January SEWA organizes three day Annual General Meeting. The primary objective of this meeting is to share the activities of past year and the annual plans for the forthcoming year. This year the meeting was organized from January 4-6, at SEWA Academy , Manipur. On the first day, about 2200 rural and urban representatives of SEWA's various trades met and discussed the concerns related to their trades and lives. The major concern that was discussed was women's empowerment in which market oriented approach to empowerment was the primary focus. Also, a resolution was passed to acquire recognition as a Nationalized Union. On the second and the third day SEWA's spearhead teams discussed their activities of the past year and their future plans, not to forget the intermittent songs and dances and gaiety.

The theme of the Annual Meeting was Empowerment through Markets. The women workers of SEWA have long since felt a need for mainstreaming their work in the local, national, and international market. Now, through production, marketing and sales of goods such as grains, clothes, shoes and other items and providing services for water, sanitation, milk, and medical facilities has not only strengthened the women, it has also provided a greater visibility to them and their contribution to the market economy. In addition, to remain focused, SEWA is constantly conducting market surveys which help in adapting with the changes in the market and in long term sustainability and presence of women workers in the market.

To mainstream the work of rural and urban poor women, SEWA has always focused on the training and capacity building of the women workers. For instance, women artisans who are into tailoring and embroidery work are trained at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, a premier institute of fashion and apparel designing in the country. This has not only empowered the women but has also helped them to understand the current fashion and the dynamics of market demand and supply with respect to clothes. While earlier, these women were into making traditional clothes, now, they make trousers, capris, skirts and other clothes to create a fashion impact in the market. This has helped to do large scale production with the aid of technology and also sell the products at affordable rates in the market. 

SEWA's Women Workers on Market Oriented Empowerment

Subiben Valabhai (Visavadi village): I am an agricultural worker. Earlier, I never knew what a bazaar is, as I used to remain within the four walls of my house. I didn't know where does money come from and where it goes and where it can be utilized. But, after I was trained by SEWA I learnt what quality goods are, learnt how to weigh with an electronic weighing machine. Today, I sell sesame at better prices. Earlier, I was known as an agricultural worker. Now, I have an identity of a business person.

Kapilaben Parmar (Ahmedabad): I live in Gomtipur area of Ahmedabad city. I am a construction worker. Earlier, I earned about Rs.100-150 per day from my work. After I underwent training for Housing at SEWA, I earn rs.200 per day, as my skills in construction work were upgraded technically.

Sadhna Parmar (Ahmedabad): I am a member of the Saundarya cooperative of SEWA. Earlier, I was involved in sweeping and swabbing. Now, I operate the vacuum cleaner and clean offices. Our demand has increased in offices. I can also enter accounts in the computer.

Madhuben Parmar (Chuneda village): I am an agricultural worker. I am trained as a plumber by SEWA. Plumbers are always required for repair work. Earlier, I did not know what a tap is. Now, I can repair taps, can make domestic water pipelines, and can drain out water from the terrace.

Celebration of the Implementation of the Minimum Wages Act:
Meeting of SEWA’s Incense Stick Workers

December 23, Ahmedabad
More than 2000 incense stick workers of SEWA gathered at Magal Bhuvan in Ahmedabad to celebtate the rise in wages for incense stick rolling and the implementation of the minimum wages act. It was noteworthy that along with SEWA's General Secratery and the Organizer of the Urban Union, the Labour Minister of Guajarat State and Additional Labour Commissioners also participated witrh gaiety in this celebration.

SEWA has unionized 10,157 women incense stick workers from the 20,000 women incense stick workers in Ahmedabad city. Each of these women sit for 8 to 12 hours and roll about 5000 to 6000 incense sticks and sell these to the incense stick manufacturers. However, the women got lower wages for their labor despite the Minimum Wages Act in the country. To inform the Labor Department of the state, SEWA conducted a survey of incense stick workers. SEWA had also been persistently holding talks with the Labor Department of Gujarat and the Association of Incense Sticks Manufacturers to raise the wages by 10 to 20 paise. Subsequently, in a tripartite meeting of manufacturers, labor department and SEWA it was decided to raise the wages and the minimum wages for incense stick rollers were fixed. After the official wage rise according to the Minimum Wages Act, the women incense stick workers are entitled to get Rs.7.50 for rolling 1000 oil-based incense sticks and Rs.7 for rolling 1000 water-based incense sticks.

Many women still get lesser wages despite the official fixing of Minimum Wages. The officials of the labor department were informed regarding this issue. They assured that if these issues are brought to their notice then they will see to the implementation of minimum wages for incense stick rolling.                                      

Memorandum to the Labour Minister of Gujarat

The Labour Minister of Gujarat was submitted a memorandum by SEWA's General Secratary on behalf of women incense stick workers. The memorandum had the following issues:

SEWA welcomes the official advertisement on 25th August 2004 of minimum wages for incense stick workers. The wage rise has been made possible due to tripartite talks.

To find out whether the wage rise was truly implemented or not SEWA had conducted a survey. The result indicate that 60 percent menufacturers and owners had implemented the wage rise. The Laour Departments needs to undertake steps for the implementation of the wage rise in entire Ahmendabad.

To improve the socio-economic conditions of these workers, a Tripartite Social Security Trust is being formed. The Labour Department is requested to contribute to this trust. The workers and the manufacturers will also give thier contributions.

Apply the E.S.I (Employee's State Insurence Corporation) scheme to incense stick workers. The incense stick workers will contribute to it. If the LAbour Department contributes to this scheme, then thousands of families of incense stick workers will get the cover of social security.

Grain Bank in Aantarnesh Village under SEWA’s Jeevika Project

Aantarnesh, a village situated on the boarder of India is now on the world map because of its Grain Bank. Aanternesh is a remote village in the Patan district of Gujarat state.The popularly known Little Rann of Kutch starts from this village. During the monsoon,access to this village becomes impossible because of the overflowing of Banas River. These are difficult times for the village people as all modes of transportation are stopped. Subsequently, they have to face acute shortage of food grains.

The people who suffer the most during the monsoon crisis are the poorest of the poor in the village. To facilitate the provision of quality food grains at affordable rates to the poorest of the poor, a grain bank has been started in Aantarnesh under the Jeevika Project of SEWA Rural Development.  The Aantarnesh Grain Bank is a joint enterprise of Jeevika SEWA Mandal and the people of Aantarnesh. Eighty families which have been identified as the poorest of the poor through village meetings in Aantarnesh have contributed Rs.1600 to the Aantarnesh Grain Bank. They are the main beneficiaries of the grain bank too.

According to the village people, the prices of food grains at the Aantarnesh Grain Bank is lower than the market price, hence it is affordable. In the beginning, 2400 kgs of wheat at Rs.6 per kg, 400 kgs of rice at Rs.7 per kg, and 500 kgs of split Bengal Grams at Rs.5 per kg were sold. Within two months the entire stock was sold with a resultant income of Rs.10,800. Later, the people of Aantarnesh demanded Bajri, as wheat proves to be costlier because of the use of oil with it. Hence, Bajri worth Rs. 10,000 was bought from a nearby village called Varahi Gunj. Within a month the entire stock of Bajri was sold at Rs.7 per kg with a profit of Rs.600.

The development of the Aantarnesh Grain Bank has prompted people from other villages of Guajarat to visit the bank and understand its functioning. They have also asked SEWA for an intermediate initiation of a Grain Bank in their respective villages.

                                     Babiben Thakor on Antarnesh Grain Bank

I became a member of the Aantarnesh Grain Bank by contributing Rs.20. Originally, I am a gum collector but now I am into coal labor. I get a daily wage of Rs.25 from this work. The presence of the Antarnesh Grain Bank has made food grains easily accessible and available in the village itself. Earlier, when there was no grain bank, I had to go to Varahi for buying grains. This meant that I had to incur the loss of wages as I had to be away for a day and take leave from my daily labor. It also meant that I had to pay daily for transportation and also buy grains at higher prices. Now, due to the grain bank my day is not spoilt, I can buy quality grains at lower prices and save some money.

SEWA in the International Labor Movement Talk by Dan Gallin to SEWA Members

January 12,Ahmedabad
Dear Sisters and Comrades,

I am here to introduce a discussion on the role SEWA is playing in the international labor movement and on its future role. I am pleased and honored to have this opportunity to exchange views with you.

SEWA is, of course, already part of the international trade union movement: it is an affiliate of the IUF, of the ITGLWF, of ICEM and it may perhaps become a member of other labor internationals. It is also, through its Academy, a member of the IFWEA. What is the meaning, the significance, of this commitment? In a way, it is a totally natural commitment, because SEWA is a union of workers. SEWA is also other things: it is a women's movement, a co-operative movement and it is not just any union, but a union of informal women workers. But it is a union of workers.

No one invented unions. Workers spontaneously form unions to collectively resist exploitation. They are self-help organizations of workers, but they are more than that. Through this struggle against exploitation the labor movement has developed its values......

SEWA joining the international labor movement means it is joining the global struggle for a society based on solidarity, equality, justice and freedom. How does that translate practically?Let us not forget: this is not just a struggle about ideas, it is a struggle about power, about changing power relationships. We do this through organization.

SEWA has already made impressive contributions o the international movement. Your remarkable achievements in India have been an inspiration to others, for example in South Africa , in Yemen , in Turkey , where you have been assisting and advising....SEWA has also been instrumental in creating and building WIEGO, a global network of unions, activist groups and individuals created to support the organization of informal workers, particularly women workers, into unions and to advance their cause. You have also helped build StreetNet and HomeNet, the international networks of street and market vendors and of home workers.

But I would suggest to you that the time has come to broaden your sense of solidarity to encompass the entire labor movement of which you are a part. I know that this may be difficult to appreciate in your country where the traditional trade union movement is not supporting you and is not showing the solidarity you would be entitled to expect and prepared to give in return. But that is not the situation at international level. In the international trade union movement you are a respected and prestigious organization and those organizations where you are a member are proud to have you.
On your part, this entails a broader commitment. The international trade union organizations of which you are a part are more than just a source of support. Solidarity is a relationship of reciprocity and you should demonstrate solidarity and support also for struggles which are not necessarily only those of women workers in the informal economy.

Finally, you should join all international trade union organizations where your presence is likely to make a difference, and that includes today the ICFTU.There your role can be a crucial one: that of ensuring that organizing in the informal economy becomes and remains a top priority of the wider labor movement.Trade unions based on the formal economy are losing members almost everywhere as formal employment is shrinking. At the same time, informal employment, so far mostly beyond the reach of the traditional unions, is growing all over the world. Organizing in the informal economy has become a survival issue for the labor movement.

Your expertise, your experience and your commitment are invaluable in this regard. There is no other organization in the world that can make the contribution you are capable of making. So, it is "all for one and one for all" at global level.

SEWA's Ujala Schee for Electricity

The Mahila SEWA Housing Trust and women workers in association with Ahmedabad Electricity Company (AEC) have provided electrical connections in the slums and chawls of Ahmedabad city. This has been done under the Ujala (light) scheme from 2002 to 2004.
Total official connections given under this scheme are 2,222. Eighty per cent of the electricity bills for the electrical connections under the Ujala Scheme are issued in the name of the concerned woman by the AEC. In total, the women have contributed Rs.77,77,000 for the scheme.

SEWA's Contribution to Tuberculosis Control Program

The Public Health Cooperative of SEWA has been involved in the Revised National Tuberculosis Control Program (RNTCP) since 1999 in association with Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation. SEWA is privileged and proud to be the only organization in to be a part of this program. About 5,00,000 people in the eastern parts of Ahmedabad such as Isanpur, Meghaninagar, Civil, Amraiwadi, and Chamanpura are covered under this project. SEWA's 20 organizers including health workers, area leaders, and aanganwadi workers are providing their services in this program as TB DOTS (Tuberculosis Direct Observe Treatment Short time) workers. Percentage of patients who have been cured from TB by SEWA's organizers has risen from 85% to 88% this year.

International Conference on Membership Based Organizations of the Poor

January 2005, Ahmedabad

SEWA along with Cornell University and WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) recently hosted a Conference on Membership Based Organizations of the Poor (MBOP).  The request for papers drew over 120 submissions from around the world, from authors housed at institutions as well known as the World Bank to lesser known people's movements like Shammo in Bangladesh.

The response to this call for papers on 'Membership Organizations of the Poor' (MBOP) illustrates the great interest in this organizational form for advancing the interests of poor people.   Organizations discussed and/or represented at the conference include:

- 36,000 small community organizations in Northeast Brazil that took part in a Community-Driven Development Project of the World Bank over four successive   generations - India's trade unions of unskilled labourers
- Community Finance Institutions in Cambodia
- The Chinese Working Women Network: a Community-based Organization of Migrant Women Workers in South China
- Waste Picker Cooperatives in and
- Street Vending Organizations in LimaPeru
- Funeral associations in Ethiopia and Tanzania
- Shack or Slum Dwellers International (SDI), an international network of national urban poor Federations and their support NGOs active in ten countries.

A unique feature of this workshop was that it was preceded by an Exposure Dialog Program in which each participant lived for a day in the house and with the family of a SEWA member.

Further information about the conference and drafts of the papers are available online at

SEWAscope Child Development Training

Ahmedabad: Teachers of BalSEWA were given training on child development for 0 to 6 years old children. In this training were included activities for child development, story telling with drama, children’s songs, games, and celebration of festivals. <

Training Program on Nursing for Adolescent Girls

Vadodara: The Bodeli Adolescent Girls Group is being trained for a nursing program in association with Bodeli Public Hospital and Janshikshan Foundation. In this six monthly training program, the doctors of the hospital are providing training for nursing to15 adolescent girls. The training course includes three months of theory followed by three months of practicals.


Kheda: Under the Information Communication Technology Project of Kheda district, SEWA has initiated a Computer Laboratory. SEWA’s women of savings groups are being trained here for accounting. SEWA’s leaders of Kheda district are being trained for basic computing skills. Also, the leaders have Kheda district have worked rigorously to start a Computer Learning Centre in Mogar village.

Words & Words

Ahmedabad: The Mahila SEWA Ansuya Trust had organized training on report writing for the counselors and organizers of SEWA’s Shantipath (way of peace) Centers. The training included method and format of report writing, case studies, interviews, and daily note-taking. The women said that they have understood how to organize their thoughts and writing, which will ultimately improve their report writing.

SEWA in Japan 's Universities

Japan : SEWA was especially invited for giving a detailed orientation about its activities in three universities of Japan , namely, Okaima University , Kagava University , Zentursuzi University . SEWA presented information regarding its unions, cooperatives, and district associations, SEWA's goals, its activities and campaigns in urban and rural areas, life school education, Gram Haat, Trade Facilitation Centre, grassroots trading network, SEWA's role and approach in struggles etc.

The Queen of Bhutan visits SEWA

Ahmedabad:The Queen of Bhutan, Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck, visited SEWA, on February 13, Sunday as the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The objective of her visit is to create an increased support and help raise public awareness for gender and reproductive health issues. She was welcomed by Elaben Bhatt, Founder of SEWA, who said that it was the first time that SEWA had such a royal visit and that too from a neighbor and a close partner in SAARC.Elaben mentioned that the women of South Asia share many commom issue.She also said that SEWA was following the call of Gandhiji to wopk for economic freedom-from poverty and want. At SEWA,the queen was particularly interested in hearing the experience of midwives ans health workers trained by SEWA. She also visited SEWA's Public Health Cooperative Centre for TB ans HIV AIDS Control.

Awards & Felicitations

Elaben Bhatt felicitated as Sahkar Ratna
January17, Ahmedabad

On the occasion of centenary celebrations of the Indian Cooperative Movement (1904-2004), Elaben Bhatt was felicitated as Sahkar Ratna for her dedicated services to the cooperative sector of the nation, by the Kalupur Commercial Cooperative Bank Ltd.

Elaben has provided inspiration to and promoted about hundred cooperatives for poor but self employed women. These cooperatives have been instrumental in providing employment to poor women and have made them self reliant.

On this occasion, Elaben said, 'This is actually the felicitation of the entrepreneurship and cooperation of women workers. We at SEWA feel proud of this honor. Women's cooperative groups are an integral part of 's cooperative sector.

Elaben Bhatt receives award for
Community Service and Social Upliftment

February 4, New Delhi
Elaben Bhatt was presented with the first ever Laksmipat Singhania – IIML (Indian Institute Of Management, Lucknow) National Leadership Award 2004 by the President of India, Shri Abdul Kalam at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, New Delhi.This award was in recognition of her inspirational leadership, commitment and initiative in the field of Community Service and Social Upliftment. She was chosen for her contribution to the movement of self-reliance and empowerment of women and marginal workers.

While receiving the award, she said, 'I have realized that poverty and loss of freedom are not separate. Given opportunities, the poor and working women when organized, develop their inner strength, they innovate, create new systems, products; put technologies to their use, access markets, build capital and this brings stability to their family and children. They feel a sense of freedom.

SEWA's website selected as the 'labour website of the year 2004' is an International Trade Union Website, featuring daily labor news from a network of correspondents around the world. Laborstart has selected SEWA's website, as the labour website of the year 2004 in a competition held every year since 1997.Trade union websites from around the world compete and individual union members vote online to decide which is the very best union website.

international panel of experts was assembled to select a site to win this award. The panel said: The Self Employed Women's Association in impressed as an immensely worth organization working in a very poor country with limited resources in support of some of the most vulnerable workers in the economy."

'Although flashier and fuller sites were nominated for the award, we went for the one that in our judgment best served the real needs of its particular users.'
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
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