With the climate talks now well underway, and talk of bureaucratic inaction and developed vs. developing world wants and needs, I want to highlight an amazing group in India that is working to overcome the impacts of climate on women.
The Self-Employed Women’s Association, or SEWA, is a trade union and organization for poor, self-employed women whose mission is to empower women through self-reliance and full employment. SEWA accomplishes this by working with the poorest rural villages and by promoting green and clean technology.
There are over 1 million SEWA members in India. SEWA’s work is broad-based, including home-based workers, small producers, vendors, and manual laborers and service providers.
Many Indian women and members of SEWA are concerned over access and availability of water. In India and in many places around the world, women bear the burden of water — how to get water to your household and what to do when there isn’t enough water available. Women are intrinsically linked to water as a result of traditional roles and responsibilities using and managing water. SEWA has members in drought-prone areas where access to water sources may entail a 3 hour walk with potential threats and dangers to the women fetching water.
Last year I met with SEWA leaders in Ahmedabad, who talked about how the poor will be the ones on the front lines of climate change and that it will also be the poor who work to find ways to mitigate the crisis. The women spoke with us about changes in weather patterns affecting their livelihoods, from irregular rainfall cycles to rains washing away rice paddies, and how they’ve had to plant some crops such as wheat multiple times in order to obtain a harvest. Their lives are challenging, to say the least, and it was inspiring to hear about the ways SEWA was meeting the difficulties head on. One main initiative is the Barefoot Water Technicians. After years of advocating for the erection of hand pumps in their villages, SEWA members took it on themselves and learned how to install and fix broken water pumps. They then took it a step further and trained community women to become technicians so they could not only erect pumps in their villages and nearby, but also repair wells, create roof rain harvesting tanks, and teach water conservation. SEWA has trained 3,685 barefoot technician women, with demand growing for more.
I hope SEWA has some representatives meeting with climate negotiators in Cancun.