SEWA builds capacity and imparts skills to empower the informal sector’s women workers
From sewa’s experience, the reality of the informal economy is that the workers are poor. Amongst the poor, the poorest of poor are the women workers. Women are not recognised as workers. Therefore even though they put in long hours of work, the returns are very low. Access to tools and equipment is limited. Therefore, productivity is low and the product is often of poor quality. Their access to markets is limited, use of social protection is restricted, and inclusion in policy dialogue – labour or economic – is very low. Informal economy workers have a limited voice in the worker’s forum and women have an even more limited voice.
Earlier I used to do stitching work. However, I did not know many aspects and did basic stitching. After having undergone professional training for cut to finish from sewa, I now know how to cut the fabric, maintaining the line and doing the work systematically. We have learnt about the rules to be followed and how should we undertake the work professionally. I never knew that so many technical aspects are involved in stitching and that I would get to learn them. I have started getting orders for uniforms and work on making shirts also. Earlier I used to earn R1,000-1,500 from the stitching work and that too was not regular. Now I earn R4,500 p.m. from this work that I am doing. I also work on production of kurtas for the Harkhi collection. This gives me regular work also.
Afsanabanu Firozbhai Makrani, Masali village
Skill and capacity building have been an integral part of sewa’s approach since inception, in 1972. sewa is a member-based organisation of poor women workers from the informal sector; 1.9 million such women across the country are members of sewa. Our approach is to build local capacities so that the poor become owners and managers of their own trade. sewa’s main objective is to ensure full employment – whereby workers obtain work security, income security, food security and social security (at least healthcare, child care and shelter) – and self reliance – women should be self reliant, individually and collectively, both economically and in terms of decision-making ability – for the members.
Organising the women members, sewa has realised that they face huge challenges, which deprive them of opportunities such as lack of resources, education, financial backing, etc. The young generation members do not want to be identified as workers. They want to learn newer skills and also use the latest technology in their traditional occupation so that the work can be done faster and with less effort. They want sustainable and secure livelihoods. For these reasons, sewa has started establishing programmes specifically related to their development; these include capacity building, literacy, organising and livelihood skills among others.
Since childhood I have observed that agriculture has remained a high cost intensive activity and return from yields is low. We could never access training or knowledge earlier even though agriculture has been our traditional occupation for years. After getting training from sewa, my family started testing the nutritious content of our soil and accordingly we put fertiliser, pesticides based on the needs from the soil report while earlier we used to put in more than required. We also started selecting our own required pesticides rather than buying whatever the shopkeeper gives us. This helped me in saving 4 bags per season on fertilisers and savings of R3,500 per season on pesticides. I also started preparing my organic pesticides.
Rinaben Kiritbhai Patel, Thada village
sewa feels that there is a need for ‘Skilling India’. Work and skill are extremely important to make the hand of the youth more meaningful, more productive. sewa’s concept has been to build capacities of the members so that they can take up all the activities on their own.
sewa’s founder Elaben Bhatt says, “No skill should be allowed to be redundant or obsolete from our skill-rich country, India. We must develop a market for skill training with fair and higher returns”.
In order to achieve global and inclusive growth for the rural poor workers, these workers need opportunities for skill building, skill enhancement and skill diversification. The vision of sewa’s skill building initiative is to create a sustainable system that would empower women workers working in the informal economy, to become entrepreneurs rather than wage labourers. sewa focuses on traditional trades and occupations using the traditional skills of the members as well as the newer skills. These trades and occupations include agriculture, nursery raising, para vets, salt farming, artisan support, etc. The newer areas include rne, ict, para medical, construction, retail management, etc. Based on our experience, there is a surplus of labour and less employment opportunities in the rural areas. Skill building in these areas is done based on the existing local skills and available resources in the region.
sewa’s initiative to strengthen the traditional occupation of the weavers and handicraft workers has helped in providing sustainable livelihoods and increased income to the members. The increase in income means that the members have improved food habits, better health, children’s education and savings. Sustainable livelihoods for the members in their own villages and through their traditional skills have also helped in reducing migration. This helped women earn an amount of R200-250 per day. For these women, their home is their workplace and therefore they gradually also invest in the construction and maintenance of their house. They started having assets in their own name.
sewa’s approach has been to build a cadre of master trainers who in turn train the other communities in the villages. Till date, sewa’s skill building initiative has trained more than 500 master trainers in 10 sectors. These master trainers have in turn trained more than 50,000 women across the sectors through the field schools. The women now have a decision making power in the family. They are better respected by the family and society. The women members earn an amount of R7,000-8,000 as a result of these skills.
I feel lucky to be part of the training of trainers to become a local resource person for animal husbandry. I have grown up seeing my mother and grandmother feeding cows and buffaloes in dirty areas and making dung cakes from dirty cow dung with their hands. This had never interested me. but thanks to sewa which arranged training and brought technology in animal husbandry, I was given laptop and dongle to bring advancement and knowledge in this field. This developed my interest in animal husbandry and it completely changed not only my mindset but also me as a person. I understood the importance of animal husbandry in our village economy and started imparting training to the village community by visiting villages. Then I came to know how sewa has organised small and marginal farmers and animal husbandry women in large numbers not only in my village but the entire district. I have become a confident person now. The training on balanced feed to animals has helped many women like Jomiben who used to feed much more to her buffaloes. But now we have made a timetable of feeding animals that helped her in increasing milk fat, more milk collection and savings in expense of feed. All thanks to sewa who arranged training for 18 young girls in my area in coordination with Banas dairy.
Hiralben Aahir, master trainer of animal husbandry, Moti Pipri Village, Patan District, Gujarat
Work and skill are extremely important to make the hands of youth more meaningful, more productive. In India, the higher level skills have been given a good deal of attention. Therefore, we have highly qualified professionals in every field and we are proud of them. But the same is not true with the majority of youth who did not have long years of schooling or others who had no education. There is a need to focus on their education integrated with skill development. There are practically no mainstream institutions which are tailored to the unique condition of the informal sector women. The few that exist are either ill-equipped or rendered obsolete by changing industry requirements. Once they get new skills, they need to be always updated to compete with the market economy.
After getting trained, the informal economy workers need financial support to start micro enterprises. There is a need for a window in mainstream banking system for such financial support at affordable interest rates.
The need is to evolve a community vocational skills college for informal sector workers where the women from all age groups can go for any
Most of the informal sector is in the care economy which includes child care, elderly care, sick care and home care. This sector is not even identified as skilled work or occupation. Therefore, there is neither a skill development framework nor a career framework. The immediate need is for skill building in this sector.