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  • SEWA Elections 2012: Representing ourselves

  • SEWA Annual General Meeting 2011 : Work and Peace

  • SEWA Delhi - towards financial inclusion

  • SEWA against Sexual Harassment - presentation in Parliament

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No. 37 | December 2011
H2 Side SEWA Elections 2012: Representing ourselves

SEWA elected its new executive committee for the three years 2012 to 2015, during its Annual General Meeting on December 16th. The election starts at the grass roots with members in every village, every urban neighbourhood, every trade from agricultural workers to street vendors, from kite makers to cattle rearers....... SEWA has a two tiered structure. The Representative council consisting of representatives or pratinidhis who are elected directly from the members in every trade and every area. One 'pratinidhi' is elected from every 200 members, and so this year 4011 pratinidhis were elected from among the 8,02,032 SEWA members. The Representative council or Pratinidhi Sabha, then elects the 25 member executive committee or Karobari. Click here for detailed report.

H2 Side Electing Pratinidhis (representatives) from among members

SEWA Pratinidhi elections are a time of mobilizing, of learning and are a medium of demonstrating the SEWA message. The process took 93 days with a total of 38 separate elections in different places. A special Election Committee was set up by the existing Karobari (executive committee) and was charged with conducting the election honesty, without bias and collectively in each area, and ensuring inclusion of all religions and castes.

The Election committee with 26 members was a combination of full-time organizers and past or present members of executive committee. They went to members in all areas and explained the SEWA Structure, election rules, and acquire qualities a representative should poses from members. SEWA election process is like education process.

Some elections were quick but others took many hours of discussion and debate! Election of home based workers like Bidi, Incense stick, Embroidery was completed peacefully. Tobacco worker's election was complete within one hour ! In some trades, team leaders prepared a list of representatives and gave it to the election committee. Most of the elections were unanimous. Vendors, vending on roads, struggling with police - customers - Municipal Corporation... their election was vibrant.

Thus, 4011 representatives were elected. Most of the representatives elected are young. SEWA is safe in young hands. The entire election process led members understanding the importance of representation and accountability. And thus, members participated sincerely and enthusiastically. Some of the key observations were:

  • Women participated with discipline and peacefully
  • Active representatives, who had a record of serving members, were elected.
  • Members participated actively and enthusiastically.
  • Members preferred a simple oral election process, without the complications of ballot papers. However, the members present and voting are registered and election process is documented.
  • There were incidents where a sitting representative suggested name of a more active sister, without being selfish for the position.
  • There were stiff competitions at some places and discussions carried on all day before candidates were elected.
  • Although nationally SEWA has over 13,00,000 members; this election was for the primary union Swashrayi Mahila SEWA Sangh (SEWA) with its members in Gujarat. This primary union, also takes members outside Gujarat in States where a separate local SEWA Union is not yet registered. So this year, apart from Guajrat the pratinidhis came from Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttrakhand and West Bengal, but they were small in number
  • Education and religion have no space in electing a representative.
  • Election became like an occasion, a mela, a get together where members came together and celebrated.
  • It was a lesson in Collective strength for the members.

H2 Side Election of the Karobari (executive committee)

Executive committee election was conducted at Manipur, SEWA Academy. SEWA Executive Committee has 25 members. 1 committee member per 38,192 members. The representatives were divided into 17 groups according to their trades and areas. There were 51 electoral officers... they were organizers who had been part of previous election and had experience in conducting elections.

Organizers took attendance and badges were distributed to representatives to start the election. The atmosphere was full of vibrancy. All disputes were settled with discussion and debate. Elections started within the group. The groups were seen celebrating where the election was complete. The cheering went on for 3-4 hours. Everyone gathered again in the pandal. The results of elected committee members were declared and everyone congratulated them with loud slogans and dance. The new committee was elected amidst laughter and joy.

First participation in election: The members from villages of Vyara and Surat district participated for the first time in election process. They found the system very different from Panchayati Raj. They witnessed representation of members and empowerment. The confidence in organizing increased.

Absent candidate elected: In India, the candidates are not seen for 5 years but during election they visit every nook and corner. We saw the opposite happening here. Ramilaben actively struggled against liquor sale in her area. Her son was injured in the bootlegger attack. There was a police case and so Ramilaben was not present during the election process but was elected with majority. This is real democracy.'

Working class leaders: SEWA leadership has always been a mix of working class and middle class. Or as Elaben calls it, blue blouse and white blouse. However, our commitment is to develop a working class leadership and since last two elections Jyotiben Macwan, has been General Secretary. Jyotiben's mother is a long time SEWA member who worked in the factories of Ahmedabad and Anand and who encouraged her daughter to be educated, Jyotiben herself paid for her college education doing work in tobacco fields and factories. This year too, Jyotiben was re-elected as General Secretary, along with Shantaben Koshti a bidi worker, who is co-ordinator of SEWA Academy and Rehanaben Kherawala, who is co-ordinator of Anand district. The three vice presidents are Shantaben Parmar, Vendor; Jamuben Ahir, Embroidery worker; and Yaminiben, who works as the co-ordinator for paper pickers in SEWA urban union.

Collectively elected President:Ramilaben, the outgoing President and Kapilaben the incoming one are from the same district and both are farm labourers and tobacco workers. Ramilaben, in her farewell speech said ‘My time as president was very fulfilling, and I feel my duty is done. During my term I met Hillary Clinton, and she said “I have lost the election for President of USA, but you, my sister have won a presidency!”, I felt extremely proud. I will never forget these words that such an eminent personality found my post so significant. My work is most important for me. I have never missed a meeting during past 3 years. I have participated in 36 meetings. Once on the day of meeting, the funeral process of my paternal father-in-law was going on, still I participated in the meeting at Ahmedabad. This is possible only with the support of my family. The trust of my sisters on me is of prime importance.

Kapilaben, incoming president, is said, 'My name was nominated during the previous election, but my husband had just died and I was personally very distressed. I cannot fulfill my duty and had withdrawn my name. But now, I want to work hard. This is not for any position. This is my responsibility towards my sisters. I promise to fulfill the trust of my sisters.

H2 Side SEWA Annual General Meeting 2011 : Work and Peace

The SEWA Annual General Meeting is a two-day gathering of the SEWA elected representatives or pratinidhis. This year the AGM also elected the new SEWA Karobari or executive committee .

The 4011 SEWA representatives were greeted by Ms. Namrata Bali, Director of SEWA Academy, and Managing Trustee of the Indian Academy for Self Employed Women, the host of the meeting at its Manipur Campus. Shri Jyotiben, General Secretary welcomed everyone present. She presented the Annual SEWA report. For further details please click SEWA Annual General Meeting December 2011.

She said SEWA has always welcomed challenges and struggled to pass through them. This year's challenges are:

  1. Inflation: Discussion on step ahead. Income increases but along with income, prices are ever rising. Due to which daily life is being adversely affected.
  2. Recently, discussion on FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) was conducted. This issue directly affect informal sector. There is serious effect on agriculture and small businesses.
  3. Save Land campaign is one of the biggest challenges. Many researches were conducted on this topic which was discussed last year. The work on the same is ongoing.
  4. In 2008, we became National Trade Union. The rules of 4 states, 4 trades (agriculture being compulsory), 5 lakhs membership, etc are being followed. Recently, the rules of National Trade Union has changed, in which now 8 states, and 8 lakhs membership is compulsory. The membership of SEWA are in accordance with the new rules but for state representation, registration of SEWA in 8 states is compulsory. We have initiated dialogues with National Trade Union on this line. Besides, we are also in the process of registration in other states.
  5. What is the future of next generation? We have to engage in discussions on the same. At international level, working for Home based Workers in SAARC countries with HomeNet South Asia is ongoing.

H2 Side SEWA Theme 2011- Work and Peace

Every year there is a discussion on one theme by the members present. This year's theme was work and peace. Namrata Bali initiated the discussion on work and peace, and shared that SEWA is linked with work. And if there is peace at home and in society then we can engage in good work. Other countries have praised our work which is a way to peace. Niwano Peace Prize to Shri Elaben Bhatt is the biggest example. Our work conveys the message of peace. SEWA has always believed and chosen the path of peace.

Kapilaben, Agriculture worker: If all our sisters have employment then we feel at peace. If there is work throughout the year then there is peace. Earlier, I used to engage in stitching work but I didn't have sufficient work. Then, I joined SEWA as team leader. I educated my daughters. I engage in seasonal agriculture work. Now, I get full employment throughout the year. With full employment women are at peace.

Rajiben, Paper picker: SEWA solves all problems through peace. My work of paper picking requires much patience. At times there are conflicts with godown owners but we always try to solve them through peaceful means. Violence is not a solution to any problem. Peace makes change possible.

Shantaben Patni, Secretary, Matsyagandha cooperative: We linked women with employment by organizing in Saurashtra. We face many struggles while organizing, which we solve through peaceful ways. There were many struggles to acquire vending space for Fish vendors of Matsyagandha cooperative under Chamunda Bridge. Today, we can see women vending peacefully under the bridge

Husnaben: I work as team leader for insurance since past 7 years. My husband died leaving two children's responsibilities on me. I feel at peace after I associated with SEWA.

Gauriben Parmar, Bal SEWA: I am with SEWA since past 20 years. The link between work and peace is similar to life and breath. If there is work, there is peace. I was married in village, were I used to work in farm. I educated for Montessori course. I felt agitated thinking about old age when I would no longer be able to work in farm. After birth of my daughter, I joined Bal SEWA. I not only received work but also peace

Shri Elaben Bhatt: It is usually the old who want peace, but our organization is young, then why did it remember peace now? For SEWA, peace means work. Shri Elaben Bhatt gave example of Bachiben who engaged in embroidery work. Bachiben had some tension with her husband. Her husband punished her and took away her embroidery work. Bachiben was very disturbed. When women engage in stitching, embroidery, bidi making work they are engrossed and they forget agony and pain. Bachiben was miserable as her embroidery was taken away. She substituted embroidery by tattoing her legs, day and night. However, peace is not passivity. If we accept injustice, peace can never prevail. To retain peace and equality, work is vital. Motherhood, care, affection are integral in women. Women have unique positivity in them. Our work contributes in the progress of society. Everyone has work on hand, and this work has growth and peace within it. SEWA engages in such work which reduces debt, increases savings, and access to learn new things. If we all hold each other's hand, we can create our dream society. We are already heading on the footsteps. Lastly, Elaben sang a song on peace in which everyone joined.

Jyotiben Macwan: Peace follows after struggle. Work and peace are interconnected. Now, we have to take our peace talks in other countries. SEWA is trying to establish peace in countries which is passing through conflicts. We are working in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Kashmir.

Reemaben Nanavaty: If mind is at peace then only there can be peace in home, village and society. It is difficult, but we are working on it. The people living in conflict areas do not know anything about peace. Afghanistan was attacked thrice and once there was a bomb blast too. We are working there with 5000 sisters. We are also working in Sri Lanka at Jaffna, Batticaloa, and Vavuniya. The condition of women is very bad due to 3 decades of persistent war. There are around 80,000 widows that too they are not more than 28 years of age. Sri Lanka is rich with lot of vegetations like pineapple, rice, and other coastal vegetation but has no electricity. We will initiate solar energy. We have already initiated computer, mobile and stitching work for young generation.

The SEWA organizers and members who are working in difficult conditions in Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to bring peace through work were facilitated.

The AGM concluding by slogans vowing that we will soon reach a membership of 25 lakhs.

H2 Side SEWA Delhi - towards financial inclusion

The Chief Minister of Delhi, Smt. Sheila Dikshit, launched SEWA's Financial Inclusion project, at a function held in Nandnagri, in North East district of Delhi on 7th October 2011. SEWA, working with the Government of Delhi, aims at financial inclusion of about one lakh vulnerable women of Delhi, through cooperative model, over the next five years. During the launch, Mrs. Dikshit said that there was need of more innovative channels for the flow of micro - financial services to the poor.

She acknowledged that cooperative movement has proved to be a solid bedrock for development in the country, and, due to substantial contribution of the cooperative movement, India's economy became robust and it has resulted in improvement in standard of life of the members.

Geetaben, an old clothes vendor, and president of the Mahila SEWA microfinance co-operative said that so far over 3000 women have come together and pooled their savings reaching more than one crores rupees in 4 years. Women have taken loans of more than 1.5 crores and have improved their lives and security. She said that she wants to reach to all the poor working women in Delhi.

The project is sponsored by Samajik Suvidha Sangam, in collaboration with SEWA Delhi Trust, to facilitate access of urban poor women to micro finance services by linking them to Mahila SEWA Urban Cooperative Thrift and Credit Society Ltd.

Initially, this project is being implemented in nine different parts of Delhi where Mahila SEWA Urban Cooperative Thrift and Credit Society Ltd. already has a presence. These areas are Jahangirpuri (North Delhi), Raghubir Nagar (West Delhi), Sundernagri (Northeast Delhi), Nandnagri (Northeast Delhi), Gokulpuri (Northeast Delhi), Rajiv Nagar (Northeast Delhi), Anand Vihar (Northeast Delhi), Mulla Colony (East Delhi) and New Ashok Nagar (East Delhi). Over the next five years, the hundred GRC areas across Delhi will be covered in a phased manner.

H2 Side SEWA against Sexual Harassment - presentation in Parliament

SEWA presented certain important points to Rajya Sabha's Human Resources Development Standing Committee on the draft of The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace 2011.

One of the main points is about inclusion of self employed women workers of informal sector and women street vendors. Informal sector women workers work at agriculture farms, small factories, small shops, mountains, compound, construction sites, houses, markets, garbage dump sites, offices, diamond polishing centres, etc., which have not been included. Besides, domestic workers have been excluded from this draft.

Recently, after a long struggle, Convention for Domestic Workers 189 has been passed, which clearly mentions Domestic Workers are workers and their workplace is the household where they work. The Government of India has supported this Convention. The Government of India has also formed a taskforce to draft a Law for Domestic Workers. Then why are Domestic Workers excluded from The Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at Workplace 2011 Draft?

SEWA submitted an application of request mentioning the below points:

  • All Informal Sector Women Workers should be included along with Domestic Workers in the proposed Bill.
  • Clause 2 (E) should be amended. The sentence 'specifically excludes domestic workers working at home' should be replaced with 'includes domestic workers working at home'.
  • Clause 2 (N) should be detailed and all workers working with informal sector should be included.
  • Local Complaints Committees should be formed and one of the members of the committee should be from membership based organization.
  • Clause 16 under the Public Interest Disclosure prohibits the complainant to file RTI. While the complaint process is ongoing, the complainant should have a right to seek the status of her complaint.

Savitaben (name changed), a widow lived with her daughter in Anand District and to meet daily expenses both worked as farm labourers. They used to pluck cotton from cotton seeds. A boy working with them harassed Savitaben's daughter. As the boy resided in the same colony as Savitaben's, she complained his parents. After parent's scolding, for some days the boy didn't harass the girl. But one day the boy abducted the girl and took her to nearby farm. Listening to girl's shout for help, Savitaben rushed to her daughter's rescue with a sickle. The boy snatched the sickle and injured Savitaben and raped her daughter and killed both of them. The boy was convicted many years later but two innocent lost their lives.
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