Greetings sisters and brother in the cooperative movement and the trade union movement. I am Mirai Chatterjee from the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a national trade union of 1.7 million informal women workers. I am the chair of our SEWA Cooperative Federation and also lead our social security team which include healthcare, childcare and insurance; and today I am sending you this message of solidarity, of hope, of standing together across the globe wherever we are and in support in particular of informal workers everywhere.
In India, we know that informal workers, and particularly women, have been the hardest hit by the current COVID-19 crisis. Not only is their health in danger but also they have lost their work, they have no source of income. Food is in an issue: food security was always an issue anyway. And these are workers who, in any case, have very low levels of social security and social protection and now even that has been taken away.
SEWA has responded to this crisis as It would as a union of women, as a sisterhood. We have spread education and information that has been provided to us by our government. Our government and our municipal corporation in Ahmedabad took very prompt action. We were able to get fliers and health education materials out to our members before the current lockdown. Our child care centres are still preparing food for our young children and their parents (Parents come and fetch the food daily).
Our low-cost medical shop run by Lok Swasthya Health Cooperative are running 24×7 providing life-saving medicines at a low cost to the general public. In addition, the health cooperative produced hand sanitizer at low cost because informal workers and work people, the general public is outpriced at present time and sanitizers are off the shelves.
Vegetables have been supplied by our vegetable cooperative of the SEWA Cooperative Federation to old people’s homes and others who desperately needed the food. So, we are doing what we can and, in addition, we will work with our government both in urban areas and in rural areas to get the message out. The message loud and clear on social distancing, hand washing and other precautionary and preventive measures.
Informal Women Workers: Their Unique Conditions
Of course, social distancing and regular hand washing is easier said than done when you live in 10X10 room, with a family of five, in crowded conditions, with irregular water supply. This is something we are discussing constantly with our government, both in the short-term, and also in the long-term for basic water and sanitation, basic infrastructure and housing for all informal workers and for all citizens of this country.
Moving Forward: What We Need
In the absolute immediate term, what we need to do is a holistic plan to face this crisis together: the COVID-19 pandemic. First and foremost, to focus on health – getting the health educational awareness messages out but, equally important, the creation of a livelihood restoration fund, where cash transfer or basic income would be put into the bank accounts of the informal women workers so that they and their families have enough money to eat, for medical care and for other essentials. This is something we are in dialogue with our government and we hope very soon our members get the kind of support, all informal workers get the kind of support that they need at this time.