“Poverty is a Form of Violence” – International Women’s Day Podcast with Women’s Work Campaigner Reema Nanavaty

March 02, 2017

In India, 94% of women in the labor force are in the unorganized sector. Their work is generally unrecognized and they often receive no regular salary or workplace benefits. Women can be trapped in perpetual poverty.

“Poverty is a form of violence, with the consent of society,” says Reema Nanavaty, Secretary General of SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association), India’s largest women's trade union.  

Now in its 45th year, SEWA boasts more than two million members across seven South Asian countries, working to help women organize and—if not equalize—then at least be recognized.

"A woman is always seen as somebody's wife or somebody's daughter . . . but she's never seen as a worker, even though she works for 18-20 hours in the day," Nanvaty tells me in this week's podcast. "Organizing brings her that identity as a worker . . . then her economic contribution gets recognized and counted."

That's beneficial not only for the woman and her family but also for India as a whole, Nanvaty tells me: "The country could really have a double digit growth rate if this vast workforce was recognized and the country came up with an enabling policy framework." (Check out CGD’s work on how to achieve economic gains for women in Mayra Buvinic and Megan O’Donnell’s report Revisiting What Works: Women, Economic Empowerment and Smart Design, an update to the 2013 Roadmap for Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment) .

So how can India get there?

The solution, Nanvaty says, is less about outlawing gender discrimination and more about recognizing and supporting the skills traditionally passed down through women as official and profitable forms of work: "The work of a weaver, the work of an artisan, the work of a cobbler or a garment worker, everything needs to be considered as work."


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.