Creating Fairness Through Self Reliance


“Talent is universal but opportunity is not,” said  U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, when she presented the First Annual 2010 Fairness Award to Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) earlier this week in Washington DC.  Hosted by the Global Fairness Initiative (FGI), the Prince of Wales Foundation, and NBC Universal, the Fairness Award honors those working to “advance fair wages, equal access to markets and balanced public policy” in order to alleviate global poverty.

SEWA is a member-based Indian trade union that provides support for women farmers and entrepreneurs. A country-wide network of cooperatives, self-help groups (SHGs), banks and training centers that help address the multiple constraints that women face, SEWA acts as a support system to end exclusion, and foster social, economic and political empowerment.

“Billions of people worldwide are trapped in poverty,” said Clinton. These are people—often women— who have the skills to provide for their families and communities, but are limited by unfair wages and lack of access to markets and other resources. Bhatt’s work with SEWA, explained Clinton, was being honored because it empowers women in India by helping them find the support and access to markets that they need to become financially independent.  When we ignore women and their contributions, continued Clinton, families and entire communities lose.  Bhatt understands, says Clinton, “that women are the key to reducing global poverty.”

Upon accepting her award, Bhatt declared that SEWA’s “fight is for fairness through self reliance.”  She explained that SEWA’s vision is “for a fairer and more equitable world” that will provide opportunities for everyone to be able to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves.  And she informed the audience that they can be a part of helping this vision come to fruition, too.  “When we buy local goods and food, we make a statement with our money,” she continued, a statement that can help to lift over 1 billion women and their families out of poverty.

In addition to the presentation of the award, the evening’s event also included the world premiere of the Prince of Wale’s Foundation’s new documentary, Harmony—released in conjunction with a book by the same title. Harmony introduces a range of experts who emphasize organic food production in order to protect the environment and ensure future food security. SEWA was featured in the film as an example of a project that not only improves the lives of some of the world’s poorest people, but that also does so in a way that is environmentally sustainable.

Speakers at the event also included NBC former President and Chief Executive Officers, Jeff Zucker, NBC’s Nightly News Anchor, Brian Williams, NBC News Anchor Andrea Mitchell, and FGI Chair and Former President of Costa Rica, José María Figueres.

Molly Theobald
Molly Theobald is a Research Fellow with the Worldwatch Institute working with the Food & Agriculture team on State of the World 2011: Nourishing the Planet. Molly brings her skills as former Labor 2008 Pennsylvania State Communications Director for the National AFL-CIO, and her experience working on women's issues, to her research and writing for Worldwatch where she focuses on sustainable agriculture as a means to alleviate hunger and poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. She has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College where she concentrated in Women's Studies and Social Justice.
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