Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association, received the first award bestowed by the Global Fairness Initiative, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented to her at a ceremony in November. Ms. Bhatt was honored for her work over the last 4 decades "helping move more than a million poor women in India to a position of dignity and independence," said Secretary Clinton.
Ms. Bhatt is a trailblazer in her work to raise the status of poor working women in India. She founded the Self-Employed Women's Association, or SEWA, in 1972, a trade union which now has more than one million members. It is an organization of poor, self-employed women. These are women who earn a living through their own labor or small businesses. They do not obtain regular salaried employment with welfare benefits like workers in the organized sector. Thanks to SEWA, these women have secured legal protection for their trade and escaped the exploitation they once suffered at the hands of the police and money lenders. Ms. Bhatt, said Secretary Clinton, has fought to give women in India the chance to start a business, send their children to school, open their own bank account, or simply be treated with respect by their husbands, their mothers-in-law, their neighbors, and authorities.
At the award ceremony for Ms. Bhatt, Secretary Clinton noted that "Talent is universal but opportunity is not. And that is inherently unfair. It is not fair that whether people get the chance to express their talents depends, to a large extent, on who their parents are or where they live."
Of the billions of people worldwide trapped in poverty, many do have the skills and the determination to build better lives. But too many barriers stand in their way, including unfair trade practices, low wages, poor health care, and inadequate schooling. The Global Fairness Initiative, or GFI, aims to address the inequities and works to advance fair wages, equal access to markets and balanced public policy to generate opportunity and end the cycle of poverty.
It is organizations like GFI and individuals like Ela Bhatt that are giving the world's poorest and most oppressed the means to overcome long legacies of inequality and unfairness.