17 June, 2021

The Credit Column

Women’s bank? SEWA has been doing it for 39 years

Mayur Bhatt
The Credit Column

At the counter near the bank entrance, two women are helping illiterate women clients fill out their passbooks. Many other clients—again, women—stoop over women officials in their cubicles. There are no men here. This isn’t the all-women’s bank that Union finance minister P. Chidambaram proposed in the 2013-14 budget. It’s the Shri Mahila SEWA Sahkari Bank Ltd, Ahmedabad,  one that has been around for 39 years.

In the late 1960s, Ela Bhatt, as chief of the women’s wing of a textile labour union, recognised the multiple problems faced by women workers and gradually organised them, by 1972, into the Self-Employed Women’s Asso­ciation (SEWA). Its founders soon realised that these working women needed savings and credit services, but existing banks weren’t keen on dealing with illiterate women, who wouldn’t know how to handle their passbooks, would arrive in work-stained clothes, often with babies in hand. So, two years on, SEWA set up a cooperative bank for women, beg­inning with 4,000...

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