Founded by Ela R. Bhatt, a lawyer from Ahmedabad, Gujarat (who passed away on 2 November 2022, aged 89), SEWA grew out of the women’s wing of the country’s oldest and largest textile workers’ union in the early 1970s. Initially, government officials refused to register SEWA as a trade union since its intended members did not meet the then legal definition of workers due to their self-employed status. But Bhatt persisted and in 1972, SEWA was officially registered as a trade union.
A few years later, when informal women workers in Anand district, Gujarat, highlighted their need for childcare while at work, Bhatt promptly volunteered to babysit their children. This impromptu childcare offer quickly transformed into a fully-fledged professional child-care service operated and managed by the all-women’s cooperative Shaishav Mandali. Today, Shaishav Mandali operates 35 childcare centres in the Anand district. In Ahmedabad district, also in Gujarat, the Sangini Mandali cooperative runs 13 childcare centres, also promoted by SEWA.
The childcare cooperatives are promoted and supported by SEWA, which today counts 1.5 million members and this April marked the 50th anniversary of its foundation.