CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

The Path to Women's Empowerment: Understanding the Rise of the Self Employed Women's Association

Orly T. May, University of Pennsylvania

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Rudra Sil

Date of this Version: 01 January 2010

This document has been peer reviewed.



Across the developing world, women in the informal economy, unprotected by government provisions and exploited by patriarchal structures, work relentlessly to earn a living for themselves and their families. Within these treacherous conditions, the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) emerged and developed into a powerful force in India and beyond. The question naturally arises – what enabled SEWA to become such a successful social movement? While previous scholars have pointed to various specific characteristics – its leadership, flexibility, values, strategy, governance, or autonomous nature – they have not put forth a theoretical framework through which to understand its rise to prominence. Drawing on social movement theory, I have put forth a three-phase framework that allows us to theoretically understand SEWA’s emergence. The three phases – providing selective incentives, creating a common identity and shared purpose, and ensuring continuity – each depend on both organizational inputs and environmental factors. This framework illuminates how the transferability of the SEWA model will ultimately depend on the degree to which the environmental factors exist in the different contexts.


Political Science

Suggested Citation

May, Orly T., "The Path to Women's Empowerment: Understanding the Rise of the Self Employed Women's Association" 01 January 2010. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 27 April 2010

This document has been peer reviewed.




Creative Commons License Articles in CUREJ are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.