August 10, 2020
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Renana Jhabvala

An activist with the NGO SEWA, the Padmashri awardee will serve on the UN Secretary-General’s panel on women’s economic empowerment

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Renana Jhabvala
Renana Jhabvala

Is economic empowerment more important than social empowerment?

Honestly, they cannot be separated. The UN and governments focus on the soc­ial bit and not on the economic inputs.

How would you go about adv­ising the government?

In developed countries, there is a concept called the glass ceiling. Here, we do not even acknowledge that for women.

You mention women are ‘invisible’. How?

See, when I say farmer, you probably picture a man in a field with a plough, but a large number of women do farming too.

And what is the ‘sticky floor’ that women find themselves on, in your description?

Their work doesn’t get ack­nowledged, they are at the bottom of the wage pile and technology goes to the ‘better educated’.

Why is it that way?

One reason is that they look at themselves as ‘paid family workers’.

Do women need to be educated about their rights?

They need to understand how they contribute to the economy.

So how to achieve sustainable development goals with them?

One major indicator that we ignore is assets like land, which changes women’s status.

You have also been critical of the rote system of learning.

Education should be adaptive to the environment around you.

How has your work with SEWA helped?

I’ve been here since 1977; my role has been more of a bridge for the women.

Where does one draw the ‘charity’ line when working with the ‘disadvantaged’?

My role isn’t a personal one. We have meetings and surveys and discuss issues which would make them a stronger collective.

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