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  • Ela Bhatt conferred Japan´s Niwano Peace Prize for Outstanding Endeavours

  • Silver Jubilee for SEWA Madhya Pradesh

  • Study by SEWA "Empowering Women in an Insecure World: Joining SEWA makes a difference"

  • SEWA calls for focus on the need and importance of women's training and education

Side Divider
No. 29 | May, 2010
H2 Side Ela Bhatt conferred Japan´s Niwano Peace Prize for Outstanding Endeavours

Ela Bhatt, founder of Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), has been conferred the prestigious Niwano Peace Prize at a ceremony in Tokyo on May 13th 2010.

The Niwano Peace Prize, founded by the leader of the Buddhist lay organization Rissho Kosei-kai, has been awarding the prize every year since 1983. It honors an individual and organization each year as an initiative to recognise their significant contribution towards inter-religious understanding and cooperation leading to world peace.

The foundation, which instituted the prize, promotes research and other activities based on a religious spirit and serves the cause of peace in fields of education, science, religion and philosophy

"Ela Bhatt is an inspiration to all of us with her commitment to uplifting the downtrodden by literally giving them the tools to become the authors of their own destiny," said the Niwano Peace Foundation, while conferring its 27th peace prize.

Accepting the prize, Elaben said "her philosophy can be symbolized by three simple words - women, work and peace. And, that was what her organisation is called, which means ´service´ in Hindi."

She added, "SEWA is a local struggle but it has to meet global questions such as securing work for poor women and realizing world peace. In that sense, the prize is a challenge for us."

Talking about SEWA's next challenge, Elaben emphasized that SEWA is looking at how it can meet the challenges in Darfur, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. She said that creation of jobs and secured livelihoods is needed to create the right environment for peace in these conflict ridden regions.

H2 Side Silver Jubilee for SEWA Madhya Pradesh

SEWA Madhya Pradesh celebrated its 25 years of organizing women working in the informal sector. This celebration was initiated on the occasion of the Labour Day on 1st May 2010.

The celebration was done over two days, 1st and 2nd May 2010 in Indore. 1500 members came together to celebrate the occasion. The event was hosted by Shikhaben Joshi, General Secretary of SEWA MP. And, the chief guest for the occasion was Elaben Bhatt, founder, SEWA.

SEWA MP wishes to strengthen its work at the grassroots level and expand its union membership to 1million members from the present level of 5, 02,040 members. SEWA´s focus has been on the following areas:

  • Unionizing informal sector women workers in Madhya Pradesh,
  • Awareness campaigns about their rights as women workers,
  • Policy advocacy with the government for implementation of existing laws and formation of new laws in favour of informal sector workers,

-SEWA MP helped workers get identity cards from the government.

Category of workers Number of workers being granted Identity Cards;
Home Based Workers 1,87,873
Construction Workers 75,149
Vendors 19,967
Tendu Leaf pluckers 97,318
  • Campaign for social security for women workers,
  • Capacity building of women workers to negotiate and bargain for their rights and entitlements vis-à-vis society and government,
  • Organize seminars and workshops for policy makers
  • SEWA MP through

- Madhya Pradesh Building and Other Construction Workers´ Welfare Board helped 5,839 members receive beneficiary schemes worth Rs. 1, 90,76,000.

-3,33,489 tendu leaf pluckers received the benefit of 3,49,17,000 government schemes.

  • Through Tendu Patta(leaves) Cooperative 10,200 received share certificates.
  • Helped 17,012 members receive employment.
  • Benefits of Government Pension Scheme were made available to 24,548 members.

The demands placed forward by the members of SEWA MP were:

-   Forest workers should have a right on the forest.
-   Construction workers should be given their rights.
-   Vendors should be allotted two baskets of place.
-   Home based workers should be given a small home to stay.


Manoramaben Joshi, founder, SEWA MP said, “Dear sisters, today is a very special day for us as it is Labour Day and the day when SEWA MP was founded. Congratulations to all my sisters who are present here on this occasion and the ones who are unable to attend it. SEWA is a big family for us. And, sisters who have dedicated their entire lives for this family are also present with us. I am very happy today as we have completed 25 years of existence. Our family has spread over 20 districts of Madhya Pradesh with a membership of over 5 lakh. In this journey of 25 years, we have had cordial relations with the government, press and other developmental organizations. I welcome all the guests and thank them for their presence.

Elaben Bhatt, founder SEWA, shared some insights by saying, "My dear sisters, I would like to congratulate you for becoming a union of 5 lakh members. And, now we shall become a union of 25 lakh members. All the women face the same issues, be it incense stick rollers, bidi rollers or vegetable vendors. It is not an individual issue. Therefore, it is important for all of us to come together. We the informal sector workers are a huge number. We run our houses with our labour and contribute to the country´s GDP. We follow the Gandhian principles and should stick by it. We will demand for our rights without fighting. When we love our opponent and have patience, the result will always be positive. We have worked together for 25 years and informed the government that we don´t have any social security. There have been policies formulated for street vendors and agricultural labourers. Next year we will demand from the State Government to have a budget for us. Apart from this I would like all the women to know three things:

1. Know your body. How does it function? When do you fall sick? Nobody should use your body without your will. And, if any fellow woman is being exploited then others should help her.
2. We should have a livelihood from which we can earn more. And, we should save from our earnings.
3. All the democratic structures should be strong. We should know how these structures function and we should participate in them. Structures like the Panchayats, Vidhan Sabha, Lok Sabha and the Cooperatives.


Only by following these three points can we become truly free, otherwise we will always be helpless. We can´t do anything alone. We have to make our voice reach the Labour Department, Chief Minister, Prime Minister and the President.

Basantiben, Tendu Patta Plucker, shared her experience by saying:

Tendu Patta is a leaf of a Tendu, which is used for making Bidi(indigenous cigarette). Bidi making is a huge industry in Madhya Pradesh. I belong to a very poor family. Ten members of my family including myself reside in a small hut. Earlier we used to go to the forest, pluck tendu patta making bundles of 100 and receiving a minimal of Rs 20 to 25 only. No Bonus. During that phase, SEWA members came knocking on our doors. They convinced us to join the union which would eventually benefit us. It was not easy to believe what they were saying could be ever true. After repetitive efforts by SEWA members I eventually joined. After joining SEWA, I realized the campaigns and struggles SEWA put up with the government to get identity cards and increased wages for our labour. Today SEWA has enabled tendu patta workers a descent wage of Rs 65 for a bundle of 100, a bonus between Rs 100 to 500 and identity cards. I have helped 200 tendu patta women collectors to join SEWA and have helped them receive the same benefits.

Kaushaben, a bidi roller, recalling her experience said,

I am a bidi roller. My mother used to roll bidi at home and with her I too started the same. In a day I used to make 2000 bidis. We received a wage of Rs 3 for 1000 bidis made. During this time, Manoramben Joshi, founder of SEWA MP, came to survey the situation of women involved in the occupation of bidi rollers. She asked me to join SEWA and help SEWA fight for the rights of bidi rollers. SEWA members staged a rally and several awareness campaigns to help women like myself t get identity cards, provident funds and medical benefits. The bidi rollers suffer from poverty, unhygienic working, and living conditions and terrible health problems due to remaining continuously in a tiny room filled with tobacco dust.

After consistent efforts by SEWA MP, wages rose to Rs 65 for 1000 bidis. Provident fund is also being given. My mother passed away but a pension of Rs 512 is given to my father. Provident fund worth Rs 17000 was given to our family. SEWA MP has enabled 50,000 poor women bidi rollers like me to get identity cards, provident fund and health benefits. I shall forever be grateful to SEWA MP for helping me escape the vicious cycle of poverty, corruption and exploitation.

Shikhaben Joshi, General Secretary, SEWA MP said, “ In the journey of 25 years of SEWA MP, women from different areas of work joined SEWA as a result of their increased faith in the strength of SEWA union and its open and transparent working culture. Today the organizational strength of SEWA MP has risen from 200 bidi rollers during its inception to more than 5 lakh members.

Today on the completion of the 25th anniversary of SEWA MP we have with us our inspiration Elaben Bhatt, Renanaben Jhabvala and Manoramaben Joshi. When we look back SEWA MP has grown out of the enormous struggle in terms of recognition and survival, considering the secondary status of women in India as well their being poor. With time SEWA MP has initiated many developmental projects for poor women. The government too accepted the strength of our union. The government involved SEWA MP in the decisions related to formulation of rules and regulations linked with our work for the poor women. However, we still have a long way to go. With cities having at least the basic amenities, there are many poor women residing in the remote areas of the forest hoping to to be heard. These women are still waiting for pure drinking water to reach them, medicial facilities, electricity, education and employment opportunities for them to survive.

So on this occasion of silver jubilee of SEWA MP along with our celebrations, we should also find a way out to meet these challenges.

H2 Side New Study of SEWA: "Empowering Women in an Insecure World: Joining SEWA makes a difference"

Planning Commission member Ms Sayeda Hameed launched SEWA´s new monograph "Empowering Women in an Insecure World: Joining SEWA makes a difference", in a function organised by UNIFEM and SEWA and Chaired by Dr. Devaki Jain. The monograph based on the findings of the Gujarat Social Income and Insecurity Survey (GSIS) which reveals a picture of life for workers in Gujarat, best characterized as insecure, except for the minority in salaried employment. Average incomes of workers have remained low and two out of every five people were not able to procure enough food for their household. Infrastructure is certainly improving in Gujarat, although housing and sanitation amongst the poor remains a serious gap. In crisis, workers primarily depend on the community, with little support from employers or private investments for casual or non-salaried workers. Entitlements from the State, despite a wide array of schemes, remain ´logged´ in bureaucratic distribution channels.

Joining SEWA does make a difference. In addition to the intangible transformations in women´s lives - of voice, self-esteem and a widened world - the survey establishes the concrete impact of SEWA in women´s lives. SEWA members tend to be from the working class and castes - OBCs, SCs and minorities - and make their living from their own work rather than from owning assets. Despite being more disadvantaged than the general population, SEWA members are more financially adept, better at dealing with the labour markets and expect more from life.

H2 Side SEWA calls for focus on the need and importance of women's training and education

Over the past three decades, SEWA has organized women into unions, community-based organisations, self-help groups and cooperatives, building their solidarity and collective strength.

SEWA strongly believes that training would help to build up capabilities to shift from one profession to another, to obtain the freedom to make choices without losing status.

Essentially what is required is the freedom to grow, to chose a career and develop it. Instead of focusing only on the paradigm shift from training for employment, SEWA concentrates on training for empowerment which is closely linked to the notion of decent work and self sufficiency.

The most significant barrier has been their low levels of literacy. Nearly 70 per cent of SEWA members were illiterate. Recognizing this challenge, SEWA has from the beginning offered literacy classes. Since 1991, SEWA has also offered a literacy programme geared towards 15 to 18 year olds girls and 25 to 50 year-old women. In 1999, a total of 78 classes with 1,170 women participants were functioning.


1992 2 30 1
1993 14 278 6
1994 56 850 28
1995 101 1515 51
1996 108 1620 54
1997 54 810 27
1998 93 1395 42
1999 78 1170 40
2000 111 1665 -
2001 155 2325 76
2002 155 3168 103
2003 70 1400 70
2004 93 1395 60
2005 68 1020 52
2006 58 1160 55
2007 52 1040 51
TOTAL 1268 20841 716


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