SEWA Bharat

Focus: Livelihoods, Women

FOR poor, informal women workers who are vulnerable both to discrimination and the vagaries of fate, SEWA act as a safety net and try to secure social, economic and legal rights for them and their families.

Take construction worker Premben, for example, the eldest of four born to poverty-stricken disabled parents in rural Uttar Pradesh. Having spent her childhood digging holes to try and support the family, she moved to Delhi with her husband in search of work, aged just 15.

She describes her struggles: “I had to carry my children on my back as I carried materials - bricks and gravel - on my head, had to work while pregnant and receive half of what men earn for the same task. My children had to grow up on dangerous construction sites. I hope for a better future for them.”

To ensure that, Premben became a member of SEWA. Now both she and her husband are registered through the construction workers’ welfare board which gives them rights to entitlements in case of injury, scholarships for their children and loans to purchase tools. She adds: “I also have taken skill courses from SEWA in masonry.”

Without formal and contractual employment, informal women workers - such as those in construction, street vending, home-based production, agriculture and domestic work - have no fixed salaries or employment benefits, little economic mobility, no protection from hazardous working conditions or buffers from economic crises.

It was to address these inhuman conditions that the Self-Employed Women's Association, SEWA, was established as a trade union in 1972.

Through community-led microfinance, advocacy and skills and leadership development, SEWA members strive to achieve full employment and self-reliance. For them, this means income, food and social security, healthcare, financial autonomy and decision making power.

What began as a trade union of women workers in Gujarat 45 years ago, has now transformed into a national movement of informal women workers. Because the SEWA model was being replicated all over the country, SEWA Bharat was established in 1984 as a national federation of smaller SEWA organisations to provide economic, social and advocacy support to all the members - currently 1.9million women across 13 states.

Support SEWA Bharat as they continue to advocate for the rights of poor working women outside the purview of formal employment and bring holistic change to thousands of communities.

Health Interventions

DUE to resource and informational gaps, health services often do not reach economically disadvantaged populations. SEWA identify chronic health issues in thousands of urban and rural communities and provide targeted solutions through a mix of preventative and treatment care, interactive sessions and campaigns on issues like maternal care, menstrual hygiene, malnutrition and sanitation, and health camps. Each information session costs ₹1,200 and delivers services to 20 women and families.

Skill and Youth Development Centres

SEWA conduct several market-led skills training programmes to help women from marginalised communities overcome their education and skills gap and choose a career. These include computer literacy training, hospitality management, fashion design, et al. The women are also mentored with an emphasis on soft skills to help them establish strong social networks and gain in confidence. Over 10,000 across six states have been trained so far. ₹1,150 will give one woman employment and independence.

Social Security Delivery

SOCIAL security schemes are critical for low-income group families but often illiteracy and a lack of awareness mean these rarely reach their intended beneficiaries. SEWA operate community centres that provide a service point for women to learn about and access public welfare schemes, seek legal services and connect to SEWA programmes. Last year 30,000 women benefited from 18 such centres. Every ₹1,000 will give five women access to schemes such as ration cards and educational subsidies.


Three years into the self-help group, I took a loan to start a small shop to follow a passion of mine to sell accessories like necklaces, earrings, cosmetics and skin creams. Now I’m able to take control of my income and pay our household expenses easily.

Pooja ben, shop owner, Dehradun, Uttarakhand

I don’t work for contractors anymore. I've invested my wages in my family and myself. I did my political science degree at Delhi University and learned embroidery and computer skills at SEWA Youth Resource Centre. I hope I'm a role model to my siblings.

Farzana ben, embroidery worker, New Delhi

Being a master weaver taught me the importance of working together. I became an aagewan [group leader] with SEWA as I wanted to build a future for our community. The biggest change is our awareness of rights - especially when I negotiate with contractors.

Kajal ben, master weaver, Phulia, West Bengal

From SEWA's agriculture training I learned how to increase my yield, turn livestock waste into products and switch to bio gas. I spend less on food and fertiliser, earn more from selling waste and have improved my health by using a cleaner way of cooking.

Sushmita ben, agricultural producer, Bihar

I can see SEWA’s changes in our community and with me personally. I’m also an aagewan and love helping others solve problems. People no longer call me 'wife of my husband' or 'daughter of my father', they use my name. I have an identity in the community.

Gayathri ben, agricultural producer, Phulia, West Bengal

  • Renana Jhabvala President
  • Sanchita Mitra National Coordinator