02/24/2010, 00.00
JAPAN – INDIA

Niwano Peace Prize laureate Bhatt, from India, working to promote the status of women

A follower of Gandhi, she is known as the “gentle revolutionary”. She is also the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which now has 1.2 million members, mostly poor and self-employed women. Her goal is to educate women to take charge of their movement, be strong and visible and lead social change.
Tokyo (AsiaNews) – Ela Ramesh Bhatt, from India, is the winner of the 27th Niwano Peace Prize. Born in 1933 and a follower of Gandhi’s philosophy, she is known as the “gentle revolutionary” who founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad (India) in 1972. Today it has a membership of 1.2 million, mostly poor and self-employed women.

SEWA’s goal is to organise women workers and their families to gain full employment and economic self-reliance, to educate them to lead their own movement to achieve economic independence and organise for social change.

In 1974, she founded the SEWA Cooperative Bank, whose outreach touches three million women. Subsequently, she organised the International Alliance of Home-based Workers (HomeNet), Street Vendors (StreetNet) and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing Organizing (WIEGO).

For decades, she was a member of the Rockefeller Foundation, and currently sits on the Council of Elders set up by Nelson Mandela in 2007

The Niwano Peace Foundation was established in 1978 to contribute to world peace in such fields as philosophy, culture, science and education. Thanks to donations worth billions of yen, the Foundation organises cultural activities and international exchanges. Every year, it awards the Niwano Peace Prize to individuals or associations that promote peace and inter-faith dialogue.

In the nomination process, some 700 people and organisations, representing 125 countries and many religions, are asked to propose candidates. Nominations are rigorously screened by the Niwano Peace Prize Committee, which is made up of twelve religious leaders from various parts of the world involved in movements for peace and inter-religious cooperation.

The Foundation is the legacy of Nikkyo Niwano, founder and first president of the lay Buddhist organisation Rissho Kosei-kai, whose purpose is to renew Amida Buddhism through deep spirituality, social involvement, promotion of peace and inter-faith dialogue.

Past winners include Archbishop Helder Camara, from Brazil, Rev Philip A. Potter, a former general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Card Paulo Evaristo Arns, the village of Neve Shalom-Wāħat as-Salām founded by Israeli Arabs and Jews, and Jordan’s Prince El Hassan bin Talal.

This year’s award ceremony is scheduled for 13 May in Tokyo. The winner will receive an award certificate, a medal and 20 million yen (US$ 225,000).

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