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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sunday, July 19, 2009
International

Indian women's group a 'poverty-fighting model'

Greeted with a garland and songs from rural India, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a reunion here Saturday with village women she presents as a model for easing global poverty.

Hillary marvelled at the embroidered clothes in the Hansiba outlet in south Mumbai, a business that sprung from the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA), which she got to know when she was US first lady.

But more than the products themselves, she praised the grassroots organisation and its aim of helping rural women and families find a way out of poverty that hampers social progress, peace and prosperity worldwide.

SEWA, a 1.2-million strong group with affiliates in Pakistan and Afghanistan -- the frontline in US efforts to fight both poverty and Islamist militancy -- has "become a model for women's economic progress and empowerment," she said.

But the Mumbai outlet, which looks like an ordinary shop, represented much more, she added, after being greeted with cheerful songs from women dressed in colourful saris, embroidered dresses and shalwar kameez.

"It is a lifeline for rural women across India with valuable skills but too few opportunities to use them and to realise income from them," she said.

"At this time of global economic turmoil, we can see a disproportionate impact on women. SEWA represents an innovative and successful approach to sustainable, inclusive development."

Hillary echoed a theme she has made her own since starting her job in January -- that women are central to development and development has equal footing with diplomacy and defence in President Barack Obama's foreign policy.

"We simply will not make progress in our world if we leave women behind," she said, triggering cheers from her audience.

Ela Bhatt, who founded SEWA in 1972, gave Clinton a hearty welcome, calling her a "friend, supporter and guide" since she first visited the organisation's headquarters in Ahmedabad, in western Gujarat state, in 1995 while first lady.

"SEWA began in a modest way as a trade union of women built around livelihood issues. It was an attempt to democratise the informal economy," she said.

While touring the Hansiba shop, Clinton wore a green and yellow garland, which she later learned was woven with material from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, where the operation also has affiliates.

Hillary then took part in Internet telephone call to the nine states in India where SEWA works, as a woman filmed her.

"You have really used technology not only to manage your businesses, but to communicate with your members," Clinton said beforehand.

"I'm so happy to be here with my friends from SEWA and to be able to talk with all of you because of technology," Hillary said in the call.

"As you know, I believe strongly in the rights and opportunities of women and SEWA is one of the most important organisations in the world in helping women not only have an income but have a better life," she added.

"And I want to encourage you to keep doing the work you are doing because you are a wonderful model not only to your daughters and other women but to people around the world."

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