SEWA in West Bengal

Since 2004, SEWA has mobilized 7,057 women across 89 villages in Murshidabad, West Bengal to improve their work and living conditions. SEWA Bharat’s area of focus has expanded from one of the developmental blocks of Murshidabad, Raghunathganj Block II, to three more blocks: Raghunathganj I, Lalgola and Behrampur.

SEWA West Bengal Programs

Key Achievements:

  • In the last three years, 2,166 health awareness sessions helping over 25,000 people
  • In 2013, SEWA helped connect 105 members’ children to the minority scholarship scheme for subsidized education worth Rs. 1,05,000.

SEWA in Murshidabad 2014 Targets

SEWA is constantly striving to expand its network to empower more women informal workers towards full employment and self-sustainability.

  • To expand to 10,000 members
  • To form 30 new SHGs for financial inclusion
  • To train and build the skills of 240 girls from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • To strengthen the cadre of grassroots leaders by empowering 30 women to be aagewans

Organizing and Advocacy

(SEWA in Murshidabad women members 2013. Photo: SEWA Bharat) (SEWA in Murshidabad women members 2013. Photo: SEWA Bharat)

India’s informal workforce contributes to roughly 90% of the economy, but workers receive no recognition or protection from the government. Informal women workers have specific concerns that SEWA brings to government and media attention. SEWA supports local and national policy makers in creating, adopting, and implementing strategies to protect the rights of women in the informal economy.

  • Last year, 1,025 women participated in 52 mohalla meetings and gained a platform to improve Murshidabad’s local communities.
  • Current cadre of 15 aagewans
Arsenic Contamination

UNICEF through SEWA revealed arsenic toxicity in 30% of government tube wells in Murshidabad. Local families continue to suffer from symptoms of arsenic poisoning like severe headaches, diarrhea, decreased bone density, and even early death.

SEWA women members have taken a lead in raising awareness about arsenic poisoning, demanding safe drinking water, and fundamentally improving the environment and living conditions of their communities. SEWA Bharat has worked closely with the West Bengal Voluntary Health Association (WBVHA) to have samples tested for contamination.

  • In 2013, 169 samples were taken to test for arsenic contamination in government-supplied drinking water
  • Last year, SEWA increased over 386 people’s awareness of arsenic poisoning through meetings, film screenings, and demonstrations.
Minority scheme

Without economic, social, and educational empowerment, Muslims in Murshidabad have been left out of reach from government schemes. Through SEWA’s advocacy program, Muslim women been empowered to reveal inefficiencies in a government scholarship scheme for minority group children.

  • In 2013, SEWA helped connect 105 members’ children to the minority scholarship scheme for subsidized education worth Rs. 1,05,000.

Healthcare and Social Security Access


Poor working women’s health issues are often seriously neglected because of daunting costs and administrative barriers, overwhelming workloads, and domestic responsibilities. SEWA’s health program starts with preventative care through jagriti (health awareness) sessions that empower women with in-depth knowledge on issues such as maternal and infant healthcare, nutrition, and relevant government schemes.

  • In the last three years, SEWA has hosted 2,166 health awareness sessions in Murshidabad, helping over 25,000 people

SEWA also takes a curative approach through health camps that bring doctors and expert practitioners to communities of need to deliver free health services. To overcome administrative barriers and help women reduce expenditure on healthcare, SEWA health saathis directly refer women to government and private healthcare centers and pass on the skills and experience for women to lead community members.

  • In 2013, SEWA organized 8 gynecological care camps in Murshidabad, helping 304 members get free treatment and pap smear screening
  • Last year, 191 referrals were made, saving poor women Rs. 38,200
  • SEWA in Murshidabad has linked with Child in Need Institute (CINI) to deliver quality health training to poor women
Social Security

The Indian government has vast social protection programs, but benefits hardly reach those in need. SEWA connects people to social security by first informing them on available schemes, then helping them fill in forms and liaise with the government.

  • In the past 2 years, SEWA has facilitated 1,065 linkages with government schemes for people in Murshidabad.
  • Last year, 111 ration cards were made to alleviate malnutrition and poverty

Livelihood Support


Bidi (local cigarette) rolling is the only viable source of income for thousands of women who’s husbands have left to find employment opportunities in major cities such as Calcutta and New Delhi. Unorganized women without education are easily exploited in the bidi industry.

Bidi worker rights

Even unifying women is perceived as a threat to their sole source of income. Despite facing resistance initially, SEWA Bharat mobilized women and developed their awareness of bidi-worker’s social and legal entitlements, such as right to have a proper identity card. With support from the Bidi Labor Welfare Office, SEWA has facilitated bidi rollers to obtain their identity cards.

  • SEWA’s empowered women have mobilized 7,000 bidi rollers to demand their rights, respect, and recognition.
  • Since 2011, SEWA has helped 274 bidi workers receive identity cards to give them recognition and a link to government social services.

Skill Training


In Murshidabad, underprivileged girls are trapped in a cycle of poverty due to lack of accessible, market-responsive, and skill-enhancing opportunities. Since 2007, SEWA has provided classes based on student’s needs, and helps facilitate employment through building their confidence, experience, and capacities. Currently, SEWA Murshidabad’s most popular classes are in tailoring and embroidery work.

  • In 2013, 195 girls engaged in SEWA’s skill building program gaining market-relevant skills
  • In 2012, 140 students were enrolled in the six-month tailoring class



Women in the informal sector have no safe, reliable, and non-exploitative sources of financing. They are very vulnerable in the face of economic shocks, environmental risks, and unexpected life events. SEWA SHGs consist of 10-20 women who financially support one another through monthly meetings, savings, internal loan disbursement and repayment. Through SHGs, women have first-time access to capital, reduce their dependency on exploitative moneylenders, inculcate the importance of savings, and build the financial credential to be linked to mainstream banks.

  • 1,643 women are part of 148 SHGs in Murshidabad to have access to secure finance


Annual Report

SEWA Bharat Annual Report 2013