Ideas & Updates

India’s leading trade union of self-employed women makes bold commitment on responsible digital payments to benefit its 2.1 million women members


India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) joins the UN-based Better Than Cash Alliance

March 08, 2022 - India’s first and largest trade union of self-employed women has joined the United Nations-based Better Than Cash Alliance to achieve 50 percent increase by 2025 in the digital payments’ transactions of its 2.1 million members.

Digital payments, when designed responsibly, have the potential to reduce cost, increase transparency, improve efficiency, and advance financial inclusion. By joining the Alliance, SEWA will bring these benefits to its members who are rural and urban low-income women, working in the informal sector. By focusing on women and working on concrete actions to reach financial equality, this partnership will help advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

As COVID-19 coursed through the country, the livelihoods of our women members came to a grinding halt. To help them re-establish their informal enterprises, we train them on digital tools and technologies, including payments. From a journey where our members were transacting just a single rupee to start developing trust and confidence in digital payments, they are now running fully digital-backed businesses, said Ms. Reema Nanavaty, Executive Director, SEWA.

“We are now ready for the next phase. By joining the Better Than Cash Alliance, we will unleash the economic potential of our members,“ said Ms. Reema Nanavaty, Executive Director, SEWA.

"I run a ration shop in my village. Earlier, I spent a lot of time in counting cash, maintaining inventory and the cash register, and often made calculation mistakes which required time and external help to reconcile because I have only studied up to class 7. After moving to digital payments, I feel liberated. I don’t have to manage, calculate, and deposit the cash in bank accounts. The time I have saved has helped me increase my business. I now supply rations to seven other villages. My customers also use the payment apps and can send me money through their phones,” said Ms. Ganga Jayram Parmar, SEWA member from Zijuvada village, Surendranagar district, Gujarat.

25% of the total adult female population in India owned a smartphone versus 41% of adult men

According to GSMA’s Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021, women in low- and middle-income countries are 15 percent less likely to own a mobile phone, and 33 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than men. In 2020, 25 percent of the total adult female population in India owned a smartphone versus 41 percent of adult men. The gender gap is wider when we move from urban to rural areas.

To close the gap and reach financial equality for women, the Better Than Cash Alliance and partners launched a 10-point action plan on International Women’s Day last year to help governments and businesses rebuild stronger by prioritizing women’s digital financial inclusion. The new partnership between SEWA and the Alliance on International Women’s Day, this year, will help catalyze several of the actions from the 10-point action plan to reach financial equality. Notably, Action 05, of mobile ownership gap, Action 08 of designing appropriate and affordable financial products for women by working with payment service providers as a community intermediary; and Action 09 of helping women benefit from e-commerce opportunities.

These actions also link to the UN Principles of Responsible Digital Payments to build trust amongst excluded users by prioritizing women, designing for their needs, making payment systems interoperable, ensuring the funds are protected, and providing access to recourse.

SEWA, in its 50th year, has become a national and global leader by enabling members who were largely excluded from opportunities, to improve their lives, increase their incomes and achieve self-reliance, through tools, services, training and the power of collective action. We are honored that SEWA, as India’s largest association of low-income and self-employed women, is joining the Alliance with such a bold vision. We look forward to working with SEWA to realize the benefits of responsible digital payments that mitigate risks, build trust and drive inclusion with self-reliance, for their members, said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director, Better Than Cash Alliance

The partnership between SEWA and the Alliance is especially significant because it will lead to concrete lessons and actions. The priority will be on how payment service providers can build better value propositions for women, the actions that the government can take to solve for exclusion by increasing access, and the role private sector companies can play in digitizing their supply chains that could cover the informal sectors. Civil society organizations, such as SEWA, can serve as community intermediaries to work with different stakeholders to bring the issues of rural women to the fore.

About SEWA

SEWA is one of the most prominent associations of low-income, self-employed women in India. With operations across several states in India, it has over 2 million women as its members now. Beyond India, SEWA organizes and trains women in Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar.

About Better Than Cash Alliance

Better Than Cash Alliance, with over 80 members from governments, corporates, and international organizations, has been advocating for a responsible shift towards digital payments to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. While doing this, Alliance advocates for prioritizing women and the underserved.