Who are SEWA members?
SEWA members are workers in the informal economy who have no fixed employee-employer relationship and depend on their own labor for survival. They are poor, illiterate and vulnerable. They barely have any assets or working capital. But they are extremely economically active, contributing very significantly to the economy and society with their labor. In fact, 64% of GDP is accounted for by the self – employed of our country. There are four types of self-employed women workers:
Four types of self-employed women workers:
Hawkers, vendors and small business women like vegetable, fruit, fish, egg and other vendors of food items, household goods and clothes vendors.
Home-based workers like weavers, potters, bidi and agarbatti workers, papad rollers, ready-made garment workers, women who process agricultural products and artisans.
Manual laborers & service providers like agricultural laborers, construction workers, contract laborers, handcart pullers, head – loaders, domestic workers and laundry workers. In addition to these three categories there is emergence of another category of women workers.
Producers & Service providers who invest their labor and capital to carry out their businesses. This category includes Agriculture, cattle farmers, salt workers, gum collectors, cooking & vending etc.
Sitara, a Ruaab SEWA home-based worker, says,
“Since working for SEWA, I feel like I am able to express myself.”
On top of poor living conditions, economic stability is precarious and exploitative employment is the norm. Sitara’s husband, Nasir, found work as a daily wage laborer, but while expenses were regular, his work was not. Sitara needed to find a way to support her husband and four children. However, like many village women, Sitara had barely any schooling and no formal job training. She began embroidery work for irregular contractors who would pay her low piece rates. Despite supplementing the family’s income, Sitara found that her family was still suffering.
In 2005, SEWA Bharat opened a center for women embroidery workers. SEWA outreach workers approached Sitara about joining the center, but faced a common list of problems encountered when organizing poor women: the women’s lack of confidence, fear, and skepticism. Without training and education, poor informal women workers are frozen in the shadows of the mainstream market.
SEWA’s grassroots empowerment model helps given women like Sitara role models, confidence, and opportunities. Sitara joined SEWA’s embroidery center and began to earn a fair rate for her embroidery work – more than double what contractors paid. Sitara now supplements her family’s income by Rs. 2,500-3,000 per month. Sitara is also a shareholder in SEWA’s embroidery cooperative called the SEWA Ruaab Artisans Company. Sitara has tapped into SEWA’s diverse development activities and has three savings accounts in SEWA Delhi’s Thrift and Credit Cooperative.
Sitara’s advancement extends beyond economical and financial improvements; she now is confident and empowered. Sitara says, “Since working for SEWA, I feel like I am able to express myself.”
By building women’s leadership and connecting them to finance and skill building, SEWA Bharat enables women to make positive changes in their communities. SEWA members have brought local impacts through advocacy campaigns. In 2013, members in Dehradun successfully advocated for cleaner public restrooms.