SEWA in West Bengal

Since 2004, SEWA has mobilized 18,378 women across 89 villages in Murshidabad, Malda, and Fulia, West Bengal to improve their working and living conditions. SEWA Bharat’s area of focus has expanded from bidi workers in one blocks of Murshidabad across several districts, trades, and issues. In 2016, SEWA West Bengal began working with handloom weavers in Fulia.

SEWA West Bengal Programs

Key Achievements:

  • In the last three years, 2,166 health awareness sessions were held, reaching over 25,000 people
  • SEWA helped connect 105 members’ children to the Minority Mcholarship Scheme for Subsidized Education, saving members Rs. 1,05,000 in tuition.

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.

  • SEWA West Bengal worked with 750 bidi workers to increase minimum wages by 25% in 2016
  • Expanded to Fulia and Malda in the last 3 years
  • SEWA developed YUVA Mondal, a group of 20 girls who lead change in their communities by promoting discussions and information on topics such as early marriage, nutritional health, and sanitation. Participants of YUVA Mondal receive communication and leadership training as well, creating a cadre of future changemakers in the communities
Arsenic Contamination

UNICEF, through SEWA data collection, 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.

  • 169 samples were taken to test for arsenic contamination in government-supplied drinking water
  • SEWA increased over 386 people’s awareness of arsenic poisoning through meetings, film screenings, and demonstrations. These awareness sessions are held to mobilize and educate communities on solutions and consequences of contaminated water
Minority scheme

Muslims in Murshidabad have been left out of reach from government schemes due to lower economic opportunities, mobility, and education rates. SEWA West Bengal has provided a platform for Muslim women to publicly reveal the inefficiencies in the government scholarship scheme. Their work has led to the improvement and ratification of the public scholarships for minority children.

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

Healthcare and Social Security Access

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Women’s health issues are often neglected due to a multi-dimensional relationship between several factors: rural and low-income areas have understaffed and overworked healthcare centers, cost of healthcare is often too high for low-income families, and women face cultural and societal barriers that result in under diagnosed or untreated conditions. 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. The goal of these sessions is to empower communities to treat and diagnosis preventable health issues independently.

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

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. Saathis are equipped witht the skills and experience to lead change from within their communities and become leaders.

  • SEWA has organized 1,041 health sessions on topics such as women’s reproductive health, malaria, diarrhea, and water sanitation, benefitting 16,112 women and men since 2013
  • In 2016, 600 members have been directly referred to Health Centers, saving Rs. 300 on average
  • In collaboration with Susrut Hospital, 16 eye camps were conducted in 2015
Social Security

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

  • 3,873 members have accessed government welfare schemes in 2015-2016
  • 871 bidi cards were applied for by members in 2015-2016

Livelihood Support

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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 by meager wages and long working hours by contractors, who take advantage of workers’ lack of understanding of workers’ rights.

Bidi worker rights

Despite facing resistance initially from contractors and middlemen, 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. Communities were able to lead the change and demand fair working wages and conditions from their employers as a unified group. This strong bargaining power changed the conditions that bidi workers face for the better.

  • SEWA’s empowered women have mobilized 7,000 bidi rollers to demand their rights, respect, and recognition.

Skill Training

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In Murshidabad, girls from low-income families are often given opportunities to education and market appropriate skills for employment. Girls and women are trapped in a cycle of poverty, working in positions that have low pay and little economic mobility. 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, which allow participants to be creative and work independently to grow their own businesses.

  • During 2015-2016, 447 girls completed a NIIT certified computer training course, beauty, and fashion design classes, gaining market-relevant skills. Graduates raised their monthly incomes by Rs. 3,000 on average

Micro-finance

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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 events, such as health emergencies. 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. Ultimately, the SHGs form a culture of cooperation, investment, and communication to promote women-led community development.

  • As of 2015, 2,194 women are part of 213 SHGs in Murshidabad to have access to secure finance
  • 922 members attended 44 financial literacy sessions  in 2015-2016

Meetings

Annual Report

SEWA Bharat Annual Report 2013

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