Bhatt_Gandhi_peace_acceptance_speechEla Bhatt spent her life improving working conditions and compensation for self employed women in India. In 1972 she started a trade union – the ‘Self Employed Women’s Association’ (SEWA) – to fight for their rights. Now there are more than 1.1 million members and it is the single largest trade union in India. Under her leadership and guidance SEWA started a bank to give members micro-credit loans to pay off debt and buy the necessary tools of their trade. Their loan repayment rate is 94% and the bank has a working capital of $1.5 million. Her efforts have improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor people.
Her book, We are poor but so many, published by Oxford University Press (2006) makes for a compelling read. She was given the award ‘Padmashri’ by the government of India in 1985 and an honorary Doctorate by Harvard University in June 2001. The legacy of Gandhi and the Independence Struggle lives actively and vividly in this alternative cultural-political orientation to the women’s movement, democratic alternatives to large bureaucracies, civil disobedience and working for the welfare and autonomy of the self-employed women of India who work in all walks of life.