The Path to Women's Empowerment: Understanding the Rise of the Self Employed Women's Association
Social Movement theory
Women and Development
Membership Based Organizations of the Poor
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.