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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at SEWA Store for SEWA Hansiba Tour

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Mumbai, India
July 18, 2009


SECRETARY CLINTON: I am so happy to be here with longtime friends and members of SEWA [Self-Employed Women's Association], 1.2 million strong throughout India. And I want to thank the leaders who have joined me here – Reema Nanavaty, who is SEWA’s general secretary, and Mona Dave, SEWA’s CEO, and my longtime friend, Ella Bhatt, the founder of SEWA, who many years ago came up with what seemed at the time to be a simple idea that has become a model for women, economic progress, and empowerment.

These three women and the others who are here, who have been active in SEWA for many years, have guided this organization so that it is truly a world leader in the empowerment of women. And it’s such an honor to be here with them, and I particularly appreciate Ella, who is a member of the Global Elders group, that consists of people like Nelson Mandela, for coming and traveling here to be with me.

I first visited SEWA in 1995 in Gujarat, and it was an extraordinary experience. From the moment that I stepped into the headquarters, I knew that I was witnessing a transformational undertaking. There are some pictures of us looking somewhat younger, and I have a different hairstyle, as was the usual case.

QUESTION: Some right there (inaudible.)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, it’s over there, right. And I think that people probably have the same experience coming here to Hensiba. To the casual passersby, this may look like any other shop, but it is so much more than that. It is a lifeline for thousands of women across India with valuable skills, but too few opportunities to use them and to realize income from them.

Every link in Hensiba’s supply chain from the raw materials, to the dyes, to the fabrics, to the finished products, is managed by rural women, some of whom are right here before you. The craft they make represents artistic techniques that have been practiced across India for generations, passed on from mothers and daughters to granddaughters, often in the face of extreme poverty and want.

And at this time of global economic turmoil, we can see a disproportionate impact on women. And SEWA represents an innovative and successful approach to sustainable, inclusive development. Upstairs, we saw beautiful embroidery, we saw organic fabrics, we saw vegetable dyes, we saw the cereals and other agricultural products that are being produced, and so much more. I have long argued that women are key to economic progress and social stability, and that is as true here as it is anywhere in the world.

And in a speech I gave last week, I talked about the efforts to build partnerships, and those partnerships are not only with governments. They’re also with the private sector and with NGOs and citizens. And we’ve had a partnership with SEWA. SEWA has come to the United States – I know at least one of the women here who has been to Washington – and to demonstrate not just the products, but the idea behind SEWA. We simply will not make progress in our world if we leave women behind.

And if you look – (applause) – at what SEWA has accomplished, the most vulnerable women can work their way towards self-sufficiency and to more secure and healthy lives. And then it’s not just women who benefit; it’s their families and their communities. There are a number of posters with messages that SEWA stands for. One of them – Reema, what was it, that’s about the self that –

MS. NANAVATY: It’s about the --


MS. NANAVATY: It’s about the self-respect and the dignity and how – becoming more self-reliant together as sisters, and the more markets we access, that we bring stability and peace into our --

SECRETARY CLINTON: Right. The most reliable forum of economic and social progress is the self. And I remember when I was with Ella back in 1995, and women had come from everywhere. Some had walked for 24 hours to be there to talk about what SEWA meant to them. And they are – they found such confidence to stand up for themselves. And Ella, do you want to say a few words about the vision behind SEWA?

MS. BHATT: I think for the stated purpose of SEWA, whether it’s local or global, is how to bring – how to democratize, how to bring the women, and particularly, you know, women, girls and (inaudible) into the mainstream of economy, and have the best benefits of it because they are the future of the world, and then we have – receive them as leaders of peace and – in this world, and then you have been, you know, one of inspiration. We always look up to you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the United States, particularly in the Obama Administration, will support and promote organizations like SEWA, which strive for what it calls full employment. And what has been so remarkable, and it’s something Ella just said – it teaches democracy. And India is such a vibrant democracy, it is so dynamic, but there are so many other countries that would benefit from the SEWA model. And I was told that – I have three strands of yarn here, and one strand was woven in --



PARTICIPANT: And the other in Nepal.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And the other in Nepal.

PARTICIPANT: And Bangladesh.

SECRETARY CLINTON: And Bangladesh. So the SEWA model is expanding across borders and giving rural women everywhere the opportunity to not only earn an income, but to really understand the role that women can play. I love this saying that I was given. One of the artisans and shareholders – because that’s what they are, they’re shareholders in SEWA – put it this way: The life of my family hangs by the thread I embroider. Without SEWA, there would be no safety net. So this is an incredibly important visit for me personally, but it’s also significant because it represents everything we are trying to do to help promote women and women’s opportunities.

So I guess I would just end by saying that I met the new president. Is she down here? Where’s the new – oh, the new president of SEWA, elected after 1.1 million votes were cast. (Applause.) I was not successful becoming a president. (Laughter.) So I especially congratulate you for what you have done and for what you represent to women everywhere. Thank you. Bless you. Thank you all. (Applause.)

We did a press conference earlier, so I don’t want to go into all of the issues that were raised there, but does anybody have any questions about SEWA and about its model and about the role that these women are playing?

Yes, yes.


SECRETARY CLINTON: Hi, how are you?

QUESTION: Good, thank you. I read in the paper this morning that the model that SEWA represents is going to be used in Afghanistan. I was wondering if anybody could tell us a little bit more about that. It’s very interesting. Do you want to talk about that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: The question is, she – the reporter had the read in the paper today that the model that SEWA represents is going to be used in Afghanistan. Does someone want to talk about that?

MS. NANAVATY: It’s already there.


MS. NANAVATY: Yes, I think since last two and a half years, the Government of India and SEWA has been working in Afghanistan, especially with the war-affected women. Most of them are (inaudible) as well, and up to – and we will be – work on identifying what would be the most appropriate skills and, using those skills, how to ensure life, liberty, security to our sisters in Afghanistan. So it’s a sister-to-sisterhood. You know, women-to-women, how do we transfer knowledge, how do we access markets.

We’ve trained up till now about 1,000 master trainers in Afghanistan, and --

PARTICIPANT: Snacks we have –

MS. NANAVATY: Yeah, and the snacks that we offered to Secretary Clinton, those nuts were all brought from Afghanistan, all the way graded, processed, 35. And they are setting up their own business association like the trade facilitation center we have. It’s called Baagy Khazana. So that’s what we are trying to set up or, you know, use the same approach in Afghanistan. (Applause.)

QUESTION: I wonder what the – you said that women who participate in SEWA are married. What do their husbands do? This is a question – supplementing the family income or, in many cases (inaudible)?


MS. MACWAN: I am Jyoti Macwan. I am a tobacco worker, got organized by SEWA before 25 years. And within those 25 years, I was elected to be the general secretary of SEWA now.

The husbands who are fellow members, they are also workers, and in the initial state, they always would fear that all these women are getting more organized, and what they are going to do for the family or get back in the family. But when they see ultimately that women get organized at SEWA as a worker, and when the benefits of getting organized comes to the family through her, then they respect of getting her organized at SEWA. So that is how the husband reacts on total organizing.

Sometimes even at the end, the men then come out of the (inaudible) and say that even they would like to get organized while (inaudible). But as far as the unique of work is family, and it is true, under the leadership of the women, we do a sustainable development of the family.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) from PTI. I just wanted to ask you, who takes care of these workers in SEWA and what is women otherwise in the world? I mean, is the U.S. referring some kind of (inaudible) including your regime?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me say something, and then I want one of the SEWA women to respond. A few months ago, we announced that we’re going to have a very large commitment to global health. We already, as you may know, contribute a lot of money from our government for HIV/AIDS. But we want to add to that commitment a commitment to maternal and child health, which is especially important here in India, to the eradication of infectious diseases like tuberculosis and polio, which are still problems here in India.

And we’re going to work very hard with our counterparts in India as part of our new comprehensive dialogue to figure out ways that the United States to be of help in solving some of India’s health challenges. But I want someone from SEWA to talk about healthcare as well.

PARTICIPANT: (inaudible) I am the secretary of SEWA. Just – healthcare is quite important for our members, because they are out working daily and (inaudible) daily. So we are closely working with the government and with the local partnership with the women, and we are training – we are providing training to the local women worker as a health worker, and then they are providing services door to door as for the (inaudible) member. And we have integrated health program (inaudible) livelihood, microfinances, and other services also.

And also, just government has made lot of policy about the mother and child and other (inaudible) health program, where SEWA has contributed from their own experiences. And now, we – as a union, we are trying (inaudible), we are assuring that each program should be reached to the members, and also be able to pass the social security bill in our council, just in this year, and for the organized sector, and further, they will get pension, maternity benefit and other coverage, for the illness – major illness, also they will get the coverage.

So after a lot of interaction and dialogue, be able to get some policies on social security from the government also. So it’s a great achievement reaping, because each unorganized settled worker will get the benefits. And the policy is there so we can tell for the implementation.

QUESTION: I’m (inaudible), from Bloomberg News. I just wanted to ask the ladies from SEWA if you have any partnerships with similar organizations to yours in Pakistan? Or if not, are you trying to establish something like that? And what about women’s cooperative in Pakistan? How do they work differently from the ones in India?

PARTICIPANT: As SEWA started organizing trade-wise for the – then we built up the networks – a network of home workers, network of state workers, network of (inaudible) – I mean, also network of domestic workers.

So trade-wise, we have gone beyond India now, and particularly India, in the South Asia – you know, South countries. And so far as the craft is concerned and so far as every culture is concerned, we have tried to link the farmers of the South countries and India. And similarly, we have tried to link the artisans of India along with other South countries. So particularly, as I said, Pakistan – yes, Pakistan and (inaudible) from Pakistan, and there, we have come up with a brand, (inaudible) Hensiba, so that is the brand called (inaudible). And so that is linked to the other countries as well. So that is our (inaudible), you know, (inaudible) of the crafts.

So it is being done, and then more and more training is happening. In Aminabad, we have these, you know, several trade facilitation center so that trains other craftswomen from the South countries into – so helping them to link with the market infrastructure, helping them to link with the capital, (inaudible) capital, and then particularly part of designs. So a regular training is going on.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

PARTICIPANT: Yes, we were just last week, (inaudible) came from Sri Lanka also, and then also from Pakistan were here for training.

So ongoing training is going on in (inaudible), so that is our way of regional cooperation, you know, in the form of sisterhood. And it works. It works very, very well.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

PARTICIPANT: May I take this opportunity to thank and say a few words of thanks, as the tradition goes? We are very much honored, you know, for you – for your visit, and of course, you have been our old friend and that is already said. We have grown, you know, older and (inaudible). So our daughter also have grown, the SEWA has grown, and so we are very grateful that you opted to come and visit us and spend so much time.

But I also want to thank our colleagues and our ambassador. Welcome and thanks both to Ambassador of India, Timothy Roemer, and (inaudible), and our friend, kind friend and supporter, counsel general (inaudible).

I just want to make another statement (inaudible) please, that though SEWA has begun in a small way and it has grown, it has been – as I said, it has been (inaudible) to democratize the informal economy. And while doing this, we have learned. And what we have learned is that the neighborhood as – is domestic economy. What we have also learned is that local community has to face – you know, had to face the nation and the globe, and (inaudible) wider, you know, experience getting wider into other countries.

So I learned that still, this virtually requires a community (inaudible) international organizations. We had to answer women’s experience in subsistence, women’s experience in survival, the – and security issues. And that could relate, you know, to peace and war as visualized by nations and states.

So SEWA’s first – our first work in terms of rearticulating in terms of trade, that is linking through the (inaudible) the markets. And in an attempt to go beyond the (inaudible), you know, you and millennium development roles, which are remote and abstract. These are thick description of the lives. We tried to create a livelihood index (inaudible) trade, so a livelihood index – a livelihood index would include (inaudible), one, access to capital and control of the sources by women, especially in an informal economy; two, women’s control of the body and the health; three, access, participation, envoys in all issues relating to health and social security; and lastly, four, the incorporation of women’s vision of minimizing (inaudible) countries.

So by bringing global to local through women’s leadership, the world can come out of poverty and will bring prosperity and cement peace. So we look up to your leadership, you know, worldwide, in connecting women, work, and peace at the global level. Thank you again, everybody. (Applause.)

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PRN: 2009/T9-5

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