Recognising the need for supportive services and social security SEWA haas taken a number of initiatives and succeeded in probiding a number of services to its members Perhaps the most important lesson from these initiatives is that poor women are ready to pay for services and that these services can indeed become financially viable. They do not have to remain dependent on subsidies. Many of these services such as credit, health-care and child-care are now provided through co-operatives which are self-reliant. Other services such as insurance and housing are provided through the Bank.
Swashrayi Mahila SEWA Bank is SEWA member's largest and most successful co-operative venture. The bank is owned by the self-employed women as share-holders, and policies are made by their own elected Board. The Bank is professionally run by qualified managers hired by the board.
The bank established in 1974, today has nearly 47000 depositors and a working capital of Rs.96.7 mil. It has been financiallly viable and self-reliant from the beginnning, and uses its surplus to further strengthen individual workers as well as their movement.
The bank aims at probviding all finance linked supportive services to SEWA members, and with that aim had started a work security insurance scheme and a housing program. In addition the Bank is now actively expanding into the rural areas through savings and credit groups.
A notable event this year was the registration of the first Savings and Credit Association in Ahmedabad district.
The scheme is run by SEWA bank in collaborationwith the Life Insurance Corporation and The United India Assurance Corporation. It covers the events of death, accidental death, sickness, accidental widowhood, loss of household goods and work tools in case of flood, fire, riot or storm. For members who have linked their fixed deposit savings with the insurance scheme there is also coverage for Maternity Benefit.
Major performances: Life Insurance, Work Security, Maternity Benefit
However, in order to strengthen theses efforts, SEWA joined with other like-minded organisations to form a Trust specifdically dedicated to promote housing for self-employed women. The founders of the trust are SEWA, SEWA bank, Gujarat Mahila Co-operative Federation, Friends of Women's World Banking, Foundation for Public Interest and the Banaskantha DWCRA Associationn. The Trust was registered financial viability of the Trust.
The Trust aims to provide technical, research and advocacy support to its members to enable better provision of all types of housing services to self-employed women
Two health co-operatives provide health care to SEWA members.
Curative health is also and important component of the co-operative's work and it runs three centres for sale of rational drugs at low prices, to help women save money. It also acts as a center for identification and curing TB cases.
The Lok Swasthya co-operative woeks closely with the union to identify and prevent occupational health problems, and with the Bank to provide care to the members by the health insurance scheme.
The plague crisis in Gujarat this year was the most notable event for Lok Swasthya. It worked closely in collaboration with the Municipal corporation to educate people on plague symptoms and cure, to look out for plague cases and to work on cleanliness in the areas.
A group of three women from SEWA attended the Cairo Conference on Population and had the opportunity of putting forward SEWA's idea of integration of health, work and population issues.
Women workers often have to combine the tasks of looking after their small children and working at the same time. Since child-care is often not avilable, she has to adopt alternatives like taking the child to work with her, leaving the chiild alone or in the care of an older sibling. Where a woman works in hazardous occupations like tabacco processing or salt farming, the risk to the child is considerable. Leaving the child alone, or with younger siblings too is undesirable, as it leads to lack of care for the child, and lack of education for the sibling. That is why SEWA considers, child care as an important part of full employment.
"Sangini" is a co-operative, registered in Ahmedabad, of child-care workers who provide a service to the SEWA members. Sangini has taken over th ICDS (government's Intergrated Child Development Scheme) program in labour areas of Ahmedabad, so that the children coming to the creches get both nutrition and child-care. In Kheda, a newly registered child-care co-operatice, has improved the health of children and the well-being of the mothers who used to take their children to the tabacco plants with them earlier. And in Surendranagar, the mothers can now leave them at creches run in collaboration with the Gujarat Rural Labour Board. The board has nominated the SEWA run Nimanknagar Creche in Dhangadra as the best Creche 1994.
* Major constraints: Child care is not yet considered a basic need and so there are few sources of funds available for it. Self-employed women are willing to pay for good child-care which involves child feeding and trained care, but their ability to pay falls short of the costs. There are no institutional sources of funds and so creches are not available to them. SEWA is trying to find innovative ways of making creches self-sufficient, collecting from employers, farmers, village panchayats, other SEWA members, and government schemes.
The ICDS too has a number of constraints, which does not allow the child-care program to become effective or self-sufficient. Its major limitation is that it does not allow the co-operative to collect fees or contributions, but keeps complete dependence on the program. Secondly, the program has a good nutrition and health component, but a weak child-care component.
SEWA's experience in organising workers over the past two decades, has shown that they have to face the law and the police at various times in their lives. Hence, in the very beginning, SEWA has been providing legal education and suport in court cases for its members. Low wages, blatant violation of labour laws, the rapid spread of contract labour, the grip of middle man, competition arising from license requirements, police harassment, slow moving and delayed court and legal proceedings, open opposition from organised sector unions, exploitation of women, their labour and even their bodies-all these are some of the issues taken up by SEWA's legal services. How far the law can actually address these successfully is a debatable issue. Justice continues to elude self-employed workers and, infact seems to bevome increasingly far remobed from them.
In 1994, the major legal struggle was over the rights of the vendors. Although the courts have ordered the Municipal _corrporations to prepare schemes for places for vending in all cities of Gujarat, it is not being done. On the contrary, the traffic courts are fining the vendors every day, so that they often have to pay Rs. 500-600 as fine per month. SEWA in 1994 has fought cases in the traffic court.
The academy builds the capacity of SEWA members so that they can organise, take leadership positions and manage their own institutions. It prepares them to come into the mainstream of the economy and of society. It does this through
Some of the courses included, basic leadership, advanced leadership, collection of membership fees, writing skills, survey techniques, new organiser training, computer (for the daughters of the members), Gandhi Jayanti, etc.
Literacy classes are organised according to the workers convenience. Women dicide the time and the place for these so that they can participate fully. The curriculum and methodology of literacy classes is developed keeping in mind SEWA members in focus. The classes are structured so that they encourage and inspire workers to learn in a non-threatening and supportive environment.
In 1994 the demand for the literacy calsses increased more that 400%. There seems to be a real drive among self-employed women for literacy. A special training program for the teachers was organized.
Some of the research examples
Videos on issues of the self-employed are shot, edited and replayed by workers themselves.
Video SEWA has shown over its more than ten years of existence that even an appparently sophisticated technology like video can be tackled and used effectively by workers. And the power of medium and its potential for organising the poor by raising awareness and bringing issues to the fore is beyond doubt.
In 1994 a rew training was held in preparation for taking bideo production to the rural areas. 15 women from the grass roots like gumpicjer, tabacco worker, bidi roller, were trained to handle the video equipment, in preparation for starting village-level communication centers.
Examples: documenting the widow conference in Bangalore, four editions of SEWA news, SEWA Bharat, training in Israel. A program about Video SEWA was broadcast by the BBC and another by Doordarshan in the program, "Surabhi."
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