A co-operative is a locally created, democratically run enterprise – this means that the workers themselves own the co-operative, make decisions about the co-operative’s functioning, and are users and managers of the enterprise. This form of collectivism not only enables women to participate wholly in the mainstream economy, but also to take ownership of their trade.
Women provide the share capital for the co-operatives and obtain employment from them. One woman may be a member of one or more co-operatives. Each co-operative is run by a democratically elected executive committee of workers. The largest co-operative is SEWA Bank with 1,24,000 members.
SEWA’s co-operatives can be categorized into the following 6 groups:
- Land-based co-operatives of women farmers
- Artisanal co-operatives (e.g. block-printers, embroiderers, puppet-makers, etc.)
- Service co-operatives (e.g. catering, domestic work, cleaning, and construction)
- Dairy co-operatives
- Savings and Credit co-operatives
- Trade and vending co-operatives (fish vendors, etc.)
Livestock rearing is a major source of livelihood in Gujarat. In 1978, SEWA started with organizing these workers in the rural parts of Gujarat, and has since then helped develop 65 co-operatives.
Traditional artisans, especially women, have limited access to markets and are exploited by middle agents. To overcome this issue, SEWA’s Artisans’ co-operative connects artists directly to customers. The Federation tries to create a system through which artisans can get a fair income for their work.
The Federation also partners with various organizations to upgrade artisans’ skills and products as per the market trends and customer preferences. It locates markets for these products and links artisans with public and private organizations for the purchase of raw materials and sales of finished products.
A majority of our members are women who earn their livelihood from land: farmers, salt workers, women who work in stone quarries, etc. SEWA’s land-based co-operatives are mainly agricultural co-operatives that support women farmers based in rural areas.
Co-operatives like Matsyagandha – women fish vendors, have encouraged and enhanced the income generating abilities of women engaged in trading goods as vendors.
Credit co-operatives customize products/services as per the requirements of our sisters. Since nationalized banks did not think our sisters were bankable, SEWA came forward with a bank of our own called ‘The Shri Mahila SEWA Sahakari Bank Ltd.’, in May 1974.
The Bank mainly caters to women with an average monthly income of Rs. 1,500 and an average monthly household income of Rs. 3,000. It offers a range of services including short-term and long-term saving options, pension schemes, loans and insurance products, financial counseling, business counseling, etc. It also provides training programs to increase financial literacy and awareness among its members.
SEWA Bank started with 4000 members, contributing a share capital of Rs.10 each. By the end of 2010, the Bank had over 89,000 account holders with a total working capital of Rs. 115 Crore. Today, the number has increased to 1,24,000 members and a turnover of nearly Rs. 340 Crore.
In 2006, two additional credit co-operatives were registered in Gujarat in the slum areas of Surat and Vadodara, with the aim to provide slum dwellers financial services and housing loans.
SEWA found that women were unfairly burdened with doing both household chores and working at their workplace. To ease this burden, SEWA started offering specialized services to its members in the areas of healthcare, homecare, child care, etc. The Federation also promotes women in various other service sectors like catering, beauty services, videography, construction, etc.
HOW WE HELP
SEWA’s role vis-à-vis the co-operatives has been three-fold, as described below:
- To organize the members, help them think through their proposed co-operative’s by-laws and support them until they are registered, have their first general meeting and elect their governing board. Some of the co-operatives are quite independent, while others remain more closely linked to the SEWA Co-operative Federation and count on its support and advice for growth.
- To link the members of the co-operatives within their network to different services. While each co-operative is an independent entity, the co-operative members are often members of more than one co-operative. They refer to the services of the other co-operatives within the SEWA co-operative network according to their needs (e.g. healthcare, childcare, insurance and other financial services).
- To provide policy advocacy for the members of the co-operatives. SEWA represents the issues and challenges of the co-operatives in policy forums and keeps these primary co-operatives linked to the wider labor movement.