Background and SEWA's Association in Africa

In the early 1990s, the South African trade unionist Pat Horn made her first visit to SEWA. She had heard of our efforts to organize women workers of the informal economy in India, and wanted to adapt our approach and strategies in her work of organizing streetvendors in Durban. This was the beginning of a special solidarity with our African sisters, and the deepening of our working together. Pat Horn went on to register Self-Employed Women's Union (SEWU), an organization of streetvendors with SEWA's active support. Today South African SEWA or SASEWA has been registered to address the concerns of women workers in the informal economy. SEWA and SEWU were also founders of Streetnet, a global organization of streetvendors which represents their issues and struggles for their rights. Many African streetvendor organizations and unions from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and other countries are active in Streetnet, whose office is in Durban. While we worked initially with streetvendors, we now have close associations with unions in South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria to promote the rights and well-being of informal workers, especially women, in these countries. There have been several exchange visits between SEWA leaders and their African counterparts, to learn from each other and support collective action in these countries. In addition, there have been visits from civil society colleagues from various African countries, Members of Parliament and officials. In sum, there is substantial interest in collaboration and mutual learning and exchange of ideas and experiences between African countries and India. Based on our interactions with our African colleagues, we felt that our integrated approach could be relevant and helpful to people, especially women workers, in some African countries. We are hoping to strengthen people's organizations and NGOs through the following activities:
  • Microfinance—promotion of self-help groups to provide integrated financial services (savings, credit, insurance and pension), their capacity-building and extension of financial literacy.
  • Microenterprise and Livelihood Promotion---examining what is feasible, markets etc and then helping organisations set up their own viable microenterprises.
  • Microinsurance---developing plans for extending microinsurance to local communities, especially women, and then capacity-building to help local organizations implement this.
  • Health and Child Care---developing appropriate systems (tailored to local conditions and needs) to reach local communities, especially women and children, with basic primary health care, including health education and life-saving information.
  • Capacity-building for leadership, management of their own activities and running their own organizations.
As this is the first time that VimoSEWA and its sister organizations are undertaking a project of this kind, it is felt that a proper understanding of the needs of poor people, especially women, in each country is critical. In any case, we have always initiated our work with this people-centred or "bottom-up" approach. We expect to collaborate with local organizations in each country to assess the needs and priorities of people, what exists and what inputs are required. Over the years, we have seen that it is this integrated and comprehensive approach which helps women and their families become self-reliant. Back To Project