A Heroine's Heroine

A Heroine's Heroine

Hillary Clinton is thought of as a heroine to many women, but who are her heroines?  One of them is Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India and one of the world’s most remarkable pioneers and entrepreneurial forces in grassroots development.  Now over a million members strong, Bhatt formed SEWA in 1972 as a trade union for poor Indian women who make a living by selling vegetables, recycling trash, hand-rolling cigarettes and working in other marginal occupations.

This week, speaking at the National Partnership for Women and Families, Hillary Clinton praised Ela Bhatt as one of her “heroines” for the work she’s done to empower women. Referring to her role in setting up SEWA, Clinton said, “She was a very well-educated woman who had the options available to those in her class with her intellectual ability.”

“But she chose to devote her life to organizing the poorest of the poor, women who worked in fields, who sold vegetables, who were domestics, who struggled to eke out a living for themselves and their families, women who were considered the last to eat, the least important.”

Two years after starting SEWA, Bhatt established the cooperative SEWA Bank to fulfill women’s need for a safe place to save their money.  Then in 1979, Bhatt founded Women’s World Banking, a New York-based microfinance organization by women and for women and active in 27 countries today.  And as if all that founding wasn’t enough, Bhatt is a founding member of The Elders, a group of global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela to contribute their wisdom and experience to some of the world’s toughest problems.

Following Gandhi’s principles of self-reliance and collective action, Bhatt has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India’s poorest and most oppressed women workers.  She says, “Poverty can only be removed with the participation of women.”

To hear Ela Bhatt in her own words, check out this recent interview from upsides.com.

Ela Bhatt with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter