From 11-14 September, HomeNet International organised an exposure visit for three HomeNet Africa representatives to SEWA, the single largest trade union of informal economy women workers, and also an HNI affiliate. Among the participants were HomeNet Kenya’s Chairperson and HNI Treasurer Jemima Nyakongo, Thabile Nxumalo, representative of Home-based Workers South Africa Association, and HomeNet Africa Regional Coordinator Edwin Bett.
Jyoti Macwan, the General Secretary of SEWA and Manali Shah, SEWA’s National Secretary and HNI Vice President, welcomed the HNA members to the four-day long programme and went into detail about the work SEWA has undertaken for over more than five decades, to economically empower informal economy women workers.
One of the primary objectives of the visit was for participants to learn about the constitution-building process of membership-based organisations from SEWA’s wide-ranging experience. “I learned that for membership-based organisations, ownership is key for its members to ensure sustainability and growth. I learned that there is no member-based organisation without the members emphasising on the fact that there is nothing for us without us” mentioned Jemima Nyakongo, as one of the key takeaways for her.
Participants also had the opportunity to visit the union where they interacted with SEWA’s Executive Committee members, the Trade Committee members, home-based worker leaders, as well as with leaders of other trades groups. They learnt about SEWA’s democratic structures and leadership building process. Additionally, they were able to get an exposure to the integrated approach of SEWA and visited the work of SEWA Academy, SEWA Bank, SEWA Social Security (healthcare, childcare and insurance), as well as SEWA Cooperative Federation.
The HNA members visited a childcare centre run by SEWA and the homes of home-based workers in different trades such as beedi rollers, pressers (ironing garments) and garment-makers, and understood their work, working conditions and organising process. The exposure visit could not have been complete without a visit to the Sabarmati Ashram, given that Gandhian philosophy is the guiding force for SEWA’s members in organising for social change.