BWI mourns passing of SEWA founder Elaben Bhatt

The Building and Woodworkers’ International (BWI) is saddened to hear the passing of Elaben Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) on 2 November 2022 at the Ahmedabad, Gujarat State in India. She served as SEWA’s General Secretary from 1972 to 1996, and was the Chancellor of the Gujarat Vidyapith from 7 March 2015 to 19 October 2022. 

Elaben was widely respected for her work, especially amongst women workers, both in India and the international community. In her lifetime, she received various awards, including The Ramon Magsaysay Award (1977), The Right to Livelihood Award (1984) and The Padma Bhushan Award (1986), one of the highest civilian awards in India for her contribution to and efforts in uplifting women. 

A certified lawyer, Elaben joined the legal department of the Textile Labour Association (TLA) in Ahmedabad in 1955, and in 1968, she was asked to head TLA’s women’s branch. During her tenure at the TLA, she came to the realisation that there are hardly any laws protecting self-employed women workers which ultimately led to the founding of SEWA. She spent her life fighting for the rights of women workers, and was part of numerous movements including cooperatives, women empowerment and micro-finance initiatives. 

BWI extends its deepest condolences to its affiliate, SEWA for the loss of our beloved leader. Her services and contribution to the world of work shall always be remembered. “Today the world has lost a crusader and a strong voice of women’s rights. Elaben dedicated her entire life to the cause of women workers, especially in the unorganised sector, and transformed the lives of millions of women and their families. She leaves behind an exceptional legacy that shall continue to lead and inspire a new generation of women leaders and activists. Our thoughts and prayers are with Elaben’s family and all of SEWA’s office-bearers and members in their period of grieving,” BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said.