New Delhi (India), February 16: Woman empowerment has become a buzzword today and we talk about it often. But, how many people go ahead and launch an organization like SEWA or the Self-Employed Women’s Association? Elaben Bhatt who started the central trade union decades ago is sadly no more amongst us. Sadly, the noted Gandhian passed away on 2nd November 2022, at the grand old age of 89. Nonetheless, the commendable work that Elaben started under SEWA, continues to empower women even today.
The organization held a special event last week to celebrate its Golden Anniversary as a trade union. Former United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and noted film producer, Jay Patel, were among the dignitaries who participated in the event held on February 5, Sunday.
Hillary Clinton, who saw Elaben as a role model, has herself been a great source of inspiration to SEWA’s members. The Former US First Lady was in India to celebrate the country’s 75th Anniversary of Independence. While in Gujarat, Ms. Clinton took part in activities that SEWA sponsored to empower women.
Spread in 18 states of India, SEWA has a membership of 2.5 million women workers who were motivated by Ms. Clinton’s visit to take forward the organization’s mission for another 50 years. Ms. Clinton paid homage to Elaben at Lokmanya Tilak Garden in Ahmedabad. She later attended SEWA’s Golden Anniversary event, where she had a memorable interaction with members of the organization.
Speaking at the event, Ms. Clinton also announced a US$50 million climate fund resilience for women. The Global Climate Resilience Fund aims to combat the challenge posed by climate change to women workers in unorganized sectors. Ms. Clinton said the fund will help address the problem of heat generated by climate change for women working in the sectors. Speaking to salt pan workers at Kuda village in Gujarat’s Surendranagar district, she said the fund will empower women and communities to combat climate change and help provide new livelihood opportunities and education.
Ms. Clinton was touched when she heard the slogan “Every ben is Elaben” during the event. According to her, all of us need to understand this slogan to strive and enjoy all the rights that Elaben has been working for and fulfill all the responsibilities that come with these rights.
In Victoria’s Garden, Ms. Clinton planted a peepal tree. The path of SEWA as a women’s movement, labor movement, and cooperative movement is shown in Peepal Tree. Ms. Clinton, who paid respect to Elaben at this hallowed site, observed that in the last 50 years, a unique event happened in Ahmedabad that has spread throughout Gujarat and subsequently expanded to India.
SEWA senior leaders and next-generation leaders paid tribute to Elaben. They shared their challenges and accomplishments over the previous 50 years in the SEWA Reception Centre, which Elaben renamed “Hillary Chowk” at the request of the SEWA sisters.
Ms. Clinton told more than 500 leaders, members, and second and third-generation members that SEWA membership has increased dramatically since her first and second visits and that it will continue to grow in the coming year, not because SEWA is good at organizing, but because it is the only way forward for women and poor workers.
She went on to say that she will do whatever it takes to spread the spirit of sisterhood not just in the United States, but across the world. She further stated that she will be delighted to do so year after year, decade after decade. She conveyed her desire for her daughter and our daughters to gather here to commemorate SEWA’s 100th anniversary.
Ms. Clinton concluded by wishing all SEWA leaders that their unions and cooperatives be multiplied and extended over all states of India, adjacent nations, and beyond. After the event, Ms. Clinton also paid her respects to Elaben’s family during a private visit.
Noted film producer Jay Patel, who also believes in SEWA, always held Elaben Bhatt in high esteem. Her demise left several people whom she worked with or was closely associated with in tears. Jay Patel who himself was moved by Elaben’s death, described her as an immortal soul.
Paying homage to Elaben just after her death, the well-known producer had expressed his sadness saying he felt extremely emotional remembering the great woman. He recalled his meeting with Elaben on July 17, 2022. Expressing the great value he gave to her, Jay Patel said getting to know Elaben, was one of his life’s golden moments. During the meeting, the outstanding producer also told Elaben that he wanted to make a biopic on her life story. In turn, the selfless Gandhian said she won’t charge a single penny for her biopic which she had humbly agreed to make if it inspires even one person to do good for the world.
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