Harvard honours SEWA founder Ela Bhatt

Boston: Ela Bhatt, the founder of NGO Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), was on Saturday awarded the Radcliffe Institute Medal by Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study here in recognition of her "life and work that have benefited society".

Bhatt was presented the medal, awarded annually to individuals who have substantially and positively influenced society, on Radcliffe Day, a traditional event that follows Harvard's Commencement ceremonies.

"When women have an income of their own, they are able to fight their own battles in their own way. For that, economic freedom is the key," Bhatt said.

"In my experience women are the key to building holistic communities," she added.

Although her workers still occupy the "margins" of society, "it is from the margins that real transformation comes to the centre," Bhatt said.

Bhatt founded SEWA in 1972.

Conceived as a women's trade union, SEWA has grown into an NGO that offers micro-lending, health and life insurance, and child care - all overseen by more than a hundred women-run cooperatives.

SEWA membership has grown to about 1.3 million.

"The Radcliffe Institute is proud to honour her this year, in which gender in the developing world is one of its dominant themes," the Institute said.

Bhatt has been recognised for her long battle for social justice.