«My body is my only asset» is the title of the book that tells the story of Lok Swasthya SEWA, the health cooperative set up in 1990 in Gujarat, India’s westernmost state, that recently joined IHCO. This surprising title expresses in a few words how vital is women’s health and physical wellbeing for them to be able to work, earn a living and feed their families.
Today, Lok Swasthya SEWA provides health services to 600.000 people and has 1,800 members, who are health workers, health educators or those providing any other health service. It is part of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, SEWA, a national trade union gathering 1.7 million informal women workers, which has promoted more 5000 membership-based organisations, mainly cooperatives.
Lok Swasthya is active in several fields, ranging from health promotion to manufacture and sale of medicines, including the provision of care, occupational healthcare and mental health diagnosis. They also provide technical support on referrals to public health facilities in case of serious illnesses.
The cooperative is a financially sustainable business. Its main revenue streams are its affordable-price pharmacies and manufactured products sales.
Once the cooperative reached some income stability, the Board decided to allocate some funds to non-revenue welfare-oriented activities, like health literacy or childcare, always with the vision of empowering women.
They set up Lok Swasthya SEWA Trust in 2005, which works in livelihood security, insurance, health and child care, capacity-building and cooperative development. The Trust has even partnered with some UN agencies like the UNDP and the WHO to share its knowledge and experiences.
Mirai Chatterjee, a founder of Lok Swasthya SEWA, explains its impact on informal worker women’s life. «When women are the users, owners and managers of their own membership-based organisations, they are empowered and trigger a process of social change. It is this action of running their own organisations and helping these grow and thrive, that results in transforming women from being passive recipients of healthcare to active participants in the long road to good health and wellbeing, and ultimately, self-reliance», says Ms Chatterjee