MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

Mahila SEWA Trust

Ahmedabad, India | 2009 Award Recipient

Empowering women through self-sufficiency and social security

Mahila SEWA Trust is one of India’s most respected and influential NGOs. Founded in 1975 as the Self-Employed Women’s Association, it is a trade union for women working in the informal economy. It now has a membership of one million.

SEWA seeks to provide a network of social services for women not protected by employers or labor legislation. Through innovative programs in finance, insurance, health, and more, SEWA has created a comprehensive set of services that make the lives of women and their families more secure, and a social network that protects their quality of life.

SEWA’s health programs have brought health insurance programs to 16,000 women workers in Gujarat. By training and organizing Traditional Birth Attendants or Swasthya Sarthi, SEWA is helping to reduce maternal mortality, the fifth of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Swasthya Sarthi provide health education, monitor expectant mothers during pregnancy, make referrals to clinics, and conduct safe home deliveries. Their work is essential in rural areas, where half of the women have no prenatal services; its expansion has been supported by Gujarat’s state government.

SEWA conducts policy advocacy locally, and at the state and national levels. It is creating an alliance of activists, academics, and policy makers to reform health care and improve the provision of services.

The success of SEWA’s work has led to collaboration with the Indian Labour Ministry, which is working to develop a social security program in four states. SEWA hopes to expand its own efforts in five states and across Gujarat.

Central to these efforts is the expansion of health insurance, through SEWA’s insurance unit, VIMO SEWA. Its goal is to register 10,000 women and create the All-India Women’s Cooperative, owned and managed by women, in nine states of India. This would be the world’s first national insurance cooperative for self-employed women.

SEWA will use its $650,000 award to build the All-India Women’s Cooperative into an economically viable organization.

 

Grantee Profile: Learn more about Mahila SEWA Trust

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