Ela Bhatt, a renowned women’s rights and microfinance social activist, lawyer, and Padma Bhushan recipient died on Wednesday, November 2, at the age of 89.

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Who was Ella Bhatt?

Born on September 7, 1933, Ela Ramesh Bhatt was an Indian cooperative organiser, activist, and Gandhian.

Bhatt was born in India’s Ahmedabad. Her mother, Vanalila Vyas, was prominent in the women’s movement and served as secretary of the All India Women’s Conference, which was formed by Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. Her father, Sumantrai Bhatt, was a lawyer.

Her upbringing was spent in the city of Surat, where she attended the Sarvajanik Girls High School from 1940 to 1948. She was the second of three daughters. Ella Bhatt married Ramesh Bhatt in 1956 and they had 2 children.

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In 1968, Ela lead the women’s wing of TLA after she had spent some time working for the Gujarati government.

She travelled to Israel in this regard and spent three months studying at the Afro-Asian Institute of Labor and Cooperatives in Tel Aviv, earning an international diploma in labour and cooperatives in 1971.

She was greatly affected by the reality that thousands of female textile workers worked in other industries to supplement the family’s income, but that these self-employed women were not protected by state legislation, which only applied to those who worked exclusively in the industrial sector.

Bhatt began to organise these independent women into a union under the aegis of the TLA Women’s Wing with the assistance of Arvind Buch, the organization’s then-president. Buch then presided over the founding of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in 1972, and she served as its general secretary from 1972 until 1996.

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Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Desmond Tutu gathered a group of international leaders on July 18, 2007, in Johannesburg, South Africa, to address some of the most difficult issues facing the planet. In a speech he gave on the occasion of his 89th birthday, Nelson Mandela announced the creation of this new organisation, The Elders.

Ela Bhatt was actively involved in The Elders’ project on gender equality, which covers child marriage among other topics. Along with fellow Elders Desmond Tutu, Gro Harlem Brundtland, and Mary Robinson, Bhatt visited Bihar, India, in February 2012. The Elders supported the state government’s efforts to address the issue by visiting Jagriti, a youth-led initiative to prevent child marriage.

Ela Bhatt also received the Padma Bhushan and the civilian honour of Padma Shri from the Indian government in 1985 and 1986, respectively. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1984 as well as the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1977.

She was given the Niwano Peace Prize in 2010 in recognition of her efforts to support underprivileged women in India.

Bhatt received the Global Fairness Initiative Award from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in November 2010 for her role in advancing more than a million underprivileged Indian women to a position of dignity and independence.

On May 27, 2011, in honour of Radcliffe Day, Ela Bhatt received the coveted Radcliffe Medal for her contributions to society’s advancement of women.

Ela Bhatt received the 2011 Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament, and Development in November in recognition of her lifetime contributions to empowering women through grassroots business .

Ela Bhatt was named as a “heroine” by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in June 2012. Ela Bhatt, who founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in India many years ago, was one of the heroes and heroines she mentioned having around the world.