Indian Women's Advocate to Receive Niwano Peace Prize
The Niwano Peace Foundation announced it will award the 27th Niwano Peace Prize to Ms. Ela Ramesh Bhatt, the founder and former secretary-general of the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat State, India.
The announcement was made February 24 by the chairperson of the Niwano Peace Foundation at a news conference in Rissho Kosei-kai's Kyoto Fumon Hall. The presentation will take place May 13 at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo. Ms. Bhatt will receive a certificate, a medal, and 20 million Japanese yen from the foundation's president, Rev. Nichiko Niwano.
Ms. Bhatt was born in 1933 in Ahmedabad. She was strongly influenced by the Gandhian philosophy instilled in her by her parents, who were active in Mahatma Gandhi's movement for Indian independence. She studied English literature and law at Sir L. A. Shah Law College in Ahmedabad. In 1955 she joined the Textile Labour Association (TLA) in Ahmedabad, India's oldest labor union, founded by Mahatma Gandhi, where she dealt with women workers' issues. While with the TLA, she went to Israel, where she studied the activities of labor and cooperative unions. After returning to India, she tackled the harsh labor condition for thousands of women workers. These were women engaged in street vending and peddling or who earned wages by rolling cigarettes and doing embroidery at home, or worked as day laborers at farms, construction sites, or restaurants. They were not protected by state laws, unlike workers in the organized sector. To help improve women's working and living conditions, in 1972 Ms. Bhatt established SEWA, a trade union and labor movement of poor and self-employed women workers. In 1974 she founded the SEWA Cooperative Bank to provide credit to self-employed women. She is known as the "gentle revolutionary," and her work has always been inspired by religion, with Gandhian philosophy as a guiding principle in promoting economic independence and organizing for social change.
SEWA has 1.2 million members and seeks to organize other women workers and their families to obtain full employment and economic self-reliance.
The Niwano Peace Prize is awarded on the basis of nominations by up to 700 leading figures in 125 countries, and the Niwano Peace Prize Committee considers the nominations with strict impartiality before reaching a decision.
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