June 25, 2009
Apparently it is the time of year for annual general meetings. Today it was the childcare cooperative’s turn. This meeting was much smaller than the other two I attended and took place in a large open room in the SEWA building, rather than across the street at the town hall. Rather than sit in chairs, the fifty or so women who run the child care centers of the cooperative sat cross legged in rows facing the front of the room. At the front sat Mirai, and a few of her colleagues. I had the good fortune of sitting next to Mirai, who was able to translate much of the meeting for me.
The first part of the meeting was about the accounting and the logistics of the child care centers. SEWA operates 29 centers for 970 poor children in and around Ahmedabad. The children in the centers receive healthy nutrition and are adequately cared for while their parents are at work. Of special note – the municipal government held a “healthy baby” competition and a child from the center got first place. This is truly a testament to the SEWA centers as the young child is from a working poor family and was competing against children from much wealthier households.
SEWA not only works hard to provide for the children of very poor families but it also is engaged in struggles with the government to get them to do more. In India the government must provide 100 days of employment for every person. SEWA has argued that they must also provide day care centers with the employment opportunities to ensure that people, especially working mothers, can take advantage of employment opportunities. SEWA won this fight and the new government is now working on a resolution to provide for more childcare centers. This is not however to say that SEWA’s interactions with the government have always been pleasant. SEWA used to operate almost 100 childcare centers but the government withdrew a large amount of funding and many centers had to be closed down.
SEWA’s fight for childcare centers is ongoing and central to poverty reduction, especially for women. Yesterday, after the meeting Mirai asked me to proofread an unfinished piece she and a colleague wrote on the importance of childcare services. The reasons are obvious enough and yet governments do very little about it. Even in the U.S. many working class families cannot afford pre-kindergarten care for their children. This often forces the mother to stop working or shuffle children around to various family members. The effects on female employment can be devastating. This is further aggravated in poor countries where often the older children, especially daughters, are kept home from school to care for younger siblings. In the end I probably got more out of proofreading the paper than Mirai, but I did write down few small changes.
So now, in addition to joining up for a SEWA pension scheme I think I am ready to lead the crusade for more childcare centers, now when will I actually get started on the work I thought I was coming here to do?