The Self-Employed Women's Association of India

Rural Employment through Women's Leadership

Many areas where SEWA works in Gujarat are dry, drought-prone, even desert areas, where there is lack of employment, very low wages, poor health, crushing debts and high rates of migration, especially among the men.

In the early years of organising, rural workers in SEWA were organised by the union. There were many struggles for minimum wages, organiseres were attacked in the fields and legal casese were undertaken. Leave aside obtaining minimum wages, the village women who constitute 50% of the work force even lost whatever lowpaid work they had, as a result of the union action.

From these experiences, " ... we learned some hard lessons. Where there is no basic employment, how can workers organise and develop their bargaining power? Where there is little employment and a large unending supply of workers, organising is very difficult and the suffering and poverty of workers increase. Hence, we decided that instead of union struggles, we would direct our organising efforts to develop as many employment opportunities as possible for rural workers."

"Over the years we have also seen that women's income goes directly for family consumption and use ... " If rural income-generating efforts are led by women and concentrate on helping them to obtain regular income, then the whole family quickly benefits, and even can emerge from the endless cycle of poverty and indebtedness. In fact, it is only by economically streangthening women that organising efforts and overall rural development can occur in the villages.

With these experiences in mind, SEWA began its actibities in Dholka taluka of Ahmedabad district in 1977. By 1981, through employment-generation for women, they began to take leadership in the overall development and change in their villages. Employment generation in the rural areas through, by and for women concentrated on 3 avenues of employment; land based work, live-stock based work, and crafts and other home based production of goods.

Needless to say that on their experiences, rural women have a deep understandng of the problems and develop creative solutions to these. They are truely invaluable, traditional resource for our country. Women also use their experiences and wisdom to develop their leadership in organising and rural development. They understand and accept responsibilities for rural development activities and accept leadership with confidence and courage.

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