I am here to thank you personally on
behalf of my family, my colleagues, and the members-workers of the two
organizations to which I belong, namely the Textile Labor Association and
the Self-Employed Women's Association—popularly known as SEWA, in Ahmedabad,
I belong to an ordinary middle class family, brought up and educated like
other girls. It was the most significant moment in my life when I was drawn
towards my toiling sisters—illiterate slum dwellers, but economically very
active, powerful and cheerful—from whom I obtain all my strength, knowledge,
answers and hope. It is at their insistence that SEWA as a union, SEWA
Cooperative as a bank and SEWA Trust as social security, have come into
being. Working with them takes me towards a realization that God is
Is it really the few big dams, or huge industrial plants or metropolises
that change the face of the world? No, even a small uplift in the capacities
of the people is able to bring total change in the world.
Most often human capacities are underestimated by us, hence we put blind
faith in machines which lead to centralization of money and power. Even the
present structures—legal, economic and social, including trade unions and
cooperatives—fail to cater to the needs of people. Let us ask ourselves, for
whom do we build our towns, roads, industries, markets, schools and
The hard struggle that men face in a life of poverty is harder for women who
most often work at the expense of their families. For the woman the economic
problem of earning her daily bread is linked with her entire social and
From humble experience I have learned that it is possible to organize,
without too much elaborate technique or expense, poor self-employed women
workers for self-help. Women are ready to be organized and are capable of
utilizing assistance and ideas if exposed to them.
The trade union movement has promoted the growth of the organized industrial
sector. In developing countries industrialization and unionization have
proceeded hand in hand. The benefits of development have reached the
organized workers, but the share of the self-employed poor has yet to grow.
In Asia a very large number of women are participating in the economic
activities of their countries. The industrial unions and social security
cover a very small, insignificant part of the total number of working women.
We hope this will be a turning point for the labor and cooperative movements
to act unitedly for the emancipation of working women from economic, social
and political suppression.
This Award has reassured us that we are on the right track in our endeavor,
and has given encouragement not only to SEWA members, but also to millions
of self-employed women workers elsewhere, to organize themselves and realize
the power generating from association outside their homes.
Therefore the 1977 Ramon Magsaysay Award is an honor to the non-industrial,
self-employed women and men of Asia who are not destined to live depressed
forever. A new challenge has emerged for those running economic
organizations and also for social workers.
I am proud to receive the Award on behalf of the self-employed women who are
the real recipients of it and for whose advancement this good money will be