UK co-ops support women co-operators in India through pandemic rebuild

They collectively raised £100,000 last year in response to the spread of the Delta variant in India.

India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) will help to set up two co-operatives with funding from retail co-ops in the UK. A trade union based in Ahmedabad, SEWA will be delivering a two-year incubator programme to support the development of a media co-operative and a research co-operative. The first co-op will enable young women to build capacity in media, journalism, graphic design, photography and new media while the second will focus on research, conducting surveys, focus group discussion and report writing.

The project is financed through a donation from UK co-operatives, who collectively raised £100,000 last year in response to the spread of the Delta variant affecting India.

SEWA used £70,000 of the donation from UK co-ops to provide emergency support. It distribution 4,000 household health kits prepared by the Indian co-operatives that form part of SEWA Cooperative Federation, with masks made by an artisan co-operative and soap and immune boosters produced by a health co-operative distributed across eight states across India. It also ran an awareness raising campaign to provide information about the symptoms and spread of Covid-19 to families in rural and low-income urban areas.

Photo: SEWA

The remaining £30,000 is now being used to deliver a two-year programme supporting the development of the two young women’s incubator co-operatives.

Twenty-year old Pranaliben is one of the young women who will receive training to join one of the co-ops. From Ahmedabad city, she is one of the many graduates who struggled to find sustained work due to the pandemic – the youth unemployment rate in India is 26%. She got in touch with SEWA through her mother, who works for one of the union’s co-ops.

The fundraising appeal was coordinated by trade body Co-operatives UK, Co-operative College and Co-op News. Donations were coordinated and collected by Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative College who worked together as part of the former’s International Working Group.

SEWA youth agricultural initiatives (Photo: SEWA)

Eleven co-ops contributed to the appeal: the Co-op Group, the Midcounties Co-op, Central England Co-op, Scotmid, Lincolnshire Co-op, Southern Co-op, East of England Co-op, Channel Islands Co-op, Chelmsford Star Co-op, Heart of England Co-op and Co-op News.

Mirai Chatterjee, Chairperson SEWA Cooperative Federation said: “Women in India mainly work informally meaning their earnings can be unreliable and as soon as the crisis hit many lost their income overnight. Thanks to the vital support provided by our co-operative friends in the UK, we’re helping them to form two grassroots co-operatives to create a sustainable livelihood for themselves.

“As well as learning technical skills in communications and research, around forty young women will develop leadership and business management skills, and we’re developing market links to help them secure regular work and provide income security.”

SEWA youth manufacturing initiatives (Photo: SEWA)

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK said: “We’re pleased to have been able to galvanise support from our largest members in the UK in solidarity with co-operatives across the world in India. This is true international co-operation in action.

“Our first wave of support was crisis response to the health emergency, now we’re helping to rebuild in a sustainable way, as co-operatives have done the world over for well over a hundred years. This demonstrates that the global co-operative values and principles are just as relevant now as they have always been.”