Events Help SEWA Celebrate 40 Years

SEWA Members

Forty years ago in 1972, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) was born as a labour union in Ahmedabad with just 600 head loaders, street vendors and home-based stitchers. Today, SEWA has more than 1.4 million dues-paying members across many occupations in 10 states of India. Responding to the needs of its members, SEWA has also developed a developmental approach, along with the its labour union rights-based struggles. This has given rise to innumerable member-based organizations providing finance, markets, training, research, health care, child care, and housing. SEWA Academy is the training and capacity-building wing of SEWA.

SEWA’s founder, Ela Bhatt, delivered an address, “Let The People’s Sector Flourish: The Journey Of SEWA" at a celebration dinner on December 11, 2012 in New Delhi.

In concert with SEWA’s 40th anniversary celebrations, WIEGO co-hosted two events on Wednesday, December 12 at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.

The Power of Statistics

SEWA Member

Chair: Prof. R. Radhakrishna, Honorary Professor, Centre for Economics and Social Studies (CESS) Hyderabad and former Chairman, National Statistical Commission, Government of India

The workshop showcased the joint efforts of SEWA, the WIEGO network, and the International Expert Group on Informal Sector Statistics (called the Delhi Group because it is convened by the Government of India) to make women and men in informal economy visible internationally as a first step towards integration into the mainstream economy. For many years, SEWA and the WIEGO network have been highlighting the power of statistics in making visible the importance of the informal economy and the situation of those working in it.

WIEGO also promotes statistics on the informal economy as an essential component of mainstream or official statistics at national, regional and international levels by encouraging countries to include the topic in data collection activities and donors to fund these activities and by assisting in training of statisticians and data users in methods of data collection and tabulation. A major strength of the WIEGO Statistics Programme is its strong collaboration with both the producers of official statistics and the potential users who need data for analyses and to inform their efforts to influence policy. These include membership-based organizations of informal workers, NGOs, research institutions and development agencies. WIEGO is honoured to have been a member and partner of the Delhi Group since 1998.

In 2002, for the 90th session of the International Labour Conference, WIEGO, in partnership with ILO, prepared Women and Men in Informal Economy: A Statistical Picture. This publication, which Martha Chen co-authored with Joann Vanek (Director of WIEGO’s Statistics Programme), provided the first statistical picture – using available national data – of the informal economy worldwide. It also included case studies of India, Mexico and South Africa, which were prepared by national experts. The ILO and WIEGO will soon bring out an updated version of this important publication. The main findings from the update publication, as well as the important milestones in the past many years, were showcased at the December 12 workshop. See the workshop agenda.

Bridging Perspectives on Labour, Informality & Poverty

SEWA Women Sewing

In recent years a group of Cornell economists began a dialogue with SEWA and WIEGO to see if they could bridge the gap between the perspectives of mainstream economists and ground level activists on key aspects of economic policy and on economic method. These dialogues were preceded by an Exposure where participants lived and worked for a few days and nights with women who earned their living in the informal economy. This provided a firsthand view of the reality that we were analyzing.

Between 2004 and 2011, five such Exposures were undertaken by the group: in Ahmedabad, India (2004 and 2008), Durban, South Africa (2007 and 2011) and Oaxaca, Mexico (2009). Group dialogues followed each exposure. After each Exposure and Dialogue, members of the group further examined their experiences through written reflections, both personal and technical. SEWA Academy, the training and capacity building wing of SEWA, anchored the entire process, in partnership with Cornell University and WIEGO, and has now produced a volume of reflections, written by the participants during and after the titled Bridging Perspectives: The Cornell-SEWA-WIEGO Exposure and Dialogue Programme on Labour, Informal Employment and Poverty. These writings highlight a remarkable process of personal enlightenment and group discourse on informality, poverty, gender and economics. The volume was launched at the event. See the event agenda.