SEWA'S electronic newsletter
No. 16
June - July 2008
  • SEWA Bihar Launched: 1st General Meeting
  • Bomb Blasts Strike Ahmadabad
  • SEWA at the World Health Assembly
  • Research Findings: How empowered have SEWA’s sisters become?
  • Workshop on Home Based Workers in Bihar
  • SEWA Cooperatives’ Annual Meetings
  • The Impact of SEWA’s Child Care Centers
SEWA Bihar Launched: 1st General Meeting in Bhagalpur
SEWA Bihar, a newly registered trade union, held its First Annual General Meeting in Bhagalpur on 11 July, 2008. 2,000 SEWA members from Munger and Bhagalpur came together to launch the union. Women workers shared that this was the first time they had attended such a meeting, especially one with chairs. SEWA Bihar elected its 13-member board, with representatives from a range of occupations, including vegetable vendors, incense rollers, weavers and bidi workers. The meeting’s chief guests were Veenaben Yadav, the woman mayor of Bhagalpur and Renanaben Jhabvala, President of SEWA Bharat. Veenaben was overwhelmed by the unity of women workers, and expressed that she felt a part of SEWA. In the midst of SEWA Bihar’s members, she announced that she would provide land for women vendors in Bhagalpur. Renanaben welcomed SEWA Bihar and women workers into the movement.

18 Bomb Blasts Strike Ahmedabad

18 bomb blasts struck Ahmedabad on the 26th of July, all in public places, killing 54 people and injuring about 120.  The most deadly blast happened in the trauma ward of the Civil hospital as the victims from other blasts began to come in for treatment.  Most sadly, all the bombs were placed in the working class areas of Ahmedabad and most of the people who died or were injured were workers.  At least 20 of those killed or injured were from families of SEWA members – families of construction workers, vendors and service providers in Ahmedabad. 

The immediate effect of the blasts was a sense of fear that covered the city. People were afraid to send their children to school, afraid to go out to social occasions and afraid to go to work. This especially affected many SEWA members as the bombs had gone off in their areas fairly close to where they live or work. SEWA members' employment has been affected badly, especially certain groups. The worst affected were paper pickers and rag collectors, who were instructed to stay away from garbage piles, which could have been concealing a bomb.

SEWA leaders and members reacted as soon as they heard about the bombs. SEWA leaders fanned out in the areas to find out about injuries, to take people to hospital, and to make sure they got the best treatment. Individual SEWA members too reacted immediately to help--for example, one SEWA member who was visiting a relative in Civil hospital when the blast took place, immediately took up a collection from her relatives and ran to buy medicines for the injured.

SEWA leaders took the message that all its members should be calm and make sure there was no violence in their areas. We had meetings in the Shanti Path (Way of Peace) centres of SEWA where Hindu and Muslim members discussed the incident. One member said, " In these blasts both Hindus and Muslims have died. The terrorists have no religion--they are anti-people. We must get together and defeat their designs of dividing us".

SEWA at the World Health Assembly  

As part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 60th anniversary celebrations in May, SEWA was invited to take part in the annual World Health Assembly in Geneva. Miraiben Chatterjee participated in two technical briefings for Ministers of Health and international health officials on primary health care and the social determinants of health. Sharing from SEWA’s members’ conviction that “our health is our wealth,” she related our experience in promoting primary health care at the grassroots through an integrated, women-led approach.  

WHO also invited SEWA in 2005 to be a member of the Commission on Social Determinants of Health, a special commission to identify how to bridge inequalities in health status through an integrated, multi-sectoral approach. SEWA’s successes in addressing the underlying determinants of health – through efforts such as organising, providing financial services and ensuring integrated social security – have been appreciated and promoted at the global level through this Commission.

Research Findings: How Empowered Have SEWA’s Sisters Become?

In 1993, a research study “My Life, My Work” measured the impact of 20 years of SEWA’s work on the lives of SEWA members.  In view of the significant increase in members since then, and growing international recognition of women workers in the informal economy, SEWA has updated these research findings to reflect members’ lives today, 35 years after SEWA’s inception.

The main objective of this study in 2007 was to measure how the socioeconomic status, individual development, and strength/capacities of SEWA’s grassroots leaders have changed after joining SEWA.   The findings indicate where SEWA has indeed impacted on the lives of women – and provide insight into the obstacles that must be overcome to support the development of future leaders.  Researchers conducted the study amongst a sample of 150 elected SEWA representatives in Ahmedabad city. 

Major findings indicate that a large majority of SEWA leaders have availed of SEWA’s services.  83% have bank accounts in SEWA Bank, of which over 1/2 have taken a loan.  Notably, 77% of women took loans for housing improvements. 69% of women are insured by VimoSEWA, and 45% have benefited from SEWA’s health services.

The study found that 70% of SEWA’s leaders are educated – and those not educated indicated that after joining SEWA, they learned critical skills such as signing one’s own name, reading bus numbers and managing accounts.   Almost all – 94% -- are currently educating their own children.  And in a sign of the depth of India’s technological revolution, 89% use a mobile phone.  3% of leaders know how to use a computer, which is likely to increase in the next generation.

Women’s development and decision making power certainly has increased, as reflected in their stated capacity to engage with local political leaders and government agencies to advocate for community needs and employment-related issues. Women also related an improvement in decision-making power, particularly related to social traditions and financial matters.  60% of women felt that after joining SEWA, their respect in the family has increased.

Overall, the study findings reflect that SEWA has served as a multi-leveled platform for the advancement of women in the informal sector. From improving their own employment opportunities to facilitating savings and credit, SEWA’s members indeed have become part of the empowerment process.

Workshop on Home Based Workers in Bihar: ISST, HomeNet India and Bihar Home Based Workers Union 

Home based workers in Bihar are experiencing a decrease in wages and difficulty in demanding higher incomes, primarily due to stiff competition from readymade Chinese goods. In May, the Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST), HomeNet India and the Bihar home based workers union organised a joint workshop to review these and other findings from an ISST survey with home based workers in Patna. Women home based workers and union leaders represented a range of trades such as incense rollers, necklace makers and seamstresses. The discussion focused on current income levels, policy issues and organising strategies for home based workers, and culminated in a memorandum for the Labour Commissioner.
SEWA Cooperatives’ Annual Meetings

Some highlights from the annual meetings of SEWA’s cooperatives:

  1. SEWA Bank’s report indicated progress and increases on all fronts. The Bank proudly reported working capital of over 100 crores, and an overall profit of Rs. 52 lakhs.  
  2. SEWA’s health cooperative Lok Swasthya Mandali reported achievements include: 94% of midwives trained by SEWA’s Dai School referred risky deliveries to institutions; establishment of the traditional medicines factory, Parishramalya; and trainings provided to community-based health workers in five other states, including SEWA Bharat sisters.  
  3. VideoSEWA cooperative’s eighth annual meeting reported achievements that include: share capital of over Rs. 78,000 with 181 shareholders; an award at an Italian Film Festival for “My Life, My Work;” cataloguing SEWA’s history through old footage; airing of a program on water on Door Darshan and development of documentaries on SEWA’s training programs in NorthEast states.

The Impact of SEWA’s Child Care Centres

This year, 700 children in SEWA’s Child Care Centres “graduated” to primary school. 36 farewell functions were held in 30 villages of Kheda district and in Ahmedabad city. All our children are now attending first standard (primary school). SEWA Child Care’s experiences on the impact of child care are corroborated in a study published recently by SEWA Academy. Some highlights:

  1. 82% of the children in our centres in Ahmedabad and 80% in Kheda enjoyed going to school, compared to 65% of the control group of children not in our centres in Ahmedabad and 55% in Kheda.
  2. Children’s attendance in school is 78% in Ahmedabad and 70% in Kheda (corresponding figures for non-SEWA children are 60% in Ahmedabad and 55% in Kheda).
  3. There were less dropouts amongst the SEWA children – 17% in Ahmedabad and 20% in Kheda (corresponding figures for non SEWA children: 20% and 43% in Ahmedabad and Kheda respectively).
SEWA Child Care is focusing on working towards sustainability of the child care centres through individual donations, community contributions and institutional support.


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