Two groups working with and on behalf of marginalized women workers and poor landowners in India have been nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
The organizations are Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and Ekta Parishad, both of which are “deeply rooted in Gandhian traditions, exercising the power of large numbers of people working in nonviolent solidarity to create pressure and effect social change on a large scale,” the AFSC wrote in its nomination letter.
Each organization addresses fundamental issues that are present worldwide, including the demands of new industries, large-scale agriculture, and the rights of small landowners to protect their claims. As the home of the world’s largest democracy by population and one-third of the world’s poor, India has become a key testing ground to address economic marginalization and generate political will to meet the needs of grassroots communities.
Founded in 1972, SEWA works to achieve two goals, full employment and self-reliance for women, giving voice to those in India’s huge informal and unregulated labor sector – which makes up nearly 90 percent of India’s economy.
Supporting the female working poor, SEWA has created a bank that lends to women; established skills training programs; and created cooperative mechanisms to help in marketing, childcare, and health benefits. Its cooperative bank now boasts 350,000 depositors, providing access to assets for women who have not been served by traditional financial institutions. Today, SEWA has more than 1.2 million members across nine Indian states representing various trade groups; small-scale vendors, home-based producers, and fabric-block printers among others.
Ekta Parishad was established in 1991 as an umbrella organization linking hundreds of small campaigns all working against economic and social injustice. The organization works to see India’s poorest people gain control over their resources, especially of land, water, and forest, in an environment where land is being grabbed and forest rights are not being implemented.
Today, Ekta Parishad’s members support local struggles; negotiate with state and national officials, pressing for land reforms; and advocate for the rights of the adivasi forest people. As a federation of about 11,000 community based organizations, Ekta Parishad now has more than 200,000 members across 13 states. Its advocacy helped lead to a new land reform policy now being formalized; a people’s parliament which is reviewing progress on implementation of reforms; and the development of fast-track courts to enable quicker resolution of land disputes.
“Significantly, both SEWA and Ekta Parishad are engaged in both aid and social justice work; in other words, they are working to meet people’s needs and at the same time, they are working to challenge the systems that make them needy,” wrote the AFSC. “Both of those approaches are essential in addressing the problems that face India, and indeed, the rest of the world.”
In 1947, AFSC and the British Friends Service Council accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of “Quakers everywhere.” Peace Prize laureates have the privilege to nominate candidates for this honor.