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Clinton identifies Ela Bhatt as one of her heroines

Washington: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has identified India`s eminent social activist Ela Bhatt as one of her "heroines".

"I have a lot of heroes and heroines around the world," Clinton said yesterday, adding that one of them is Ela Bhatt, who started an organisation called the Self-Employed Women`s Association (SEWA) in India many years ago.

"She was a very well-educated woman who had the options available to those in her class with her intellectual ability, but she chose to devote her life to organising the poorest of the poor, women who worked in fields, who sold vegetables, who were domestics, who struggled to eke out a living for themselves and their families, women who were considered the last to eat, the least important," Clinton said while speaking very highly of Bhatt.

"When I first visited her, as First Lady, in India, she took me to a big gathering where women had come from all over the region. Some of them had walked for 24 hours. And these were such beautiful women, brightly colored saris, beautiful chiseled features. And they were part of SEWA, the Self-Employed Women`s Association," Clinton said referring to her first interaction with the organisation.

Clinton said that the women of SEWA showed the courage to stand up to their abusive husbands and mother-in-laws on the basis of their income, adding that the latter are working to enhance the quality of life for their own families.

Clinton then also mentioned her visit to India as the Secretary of State. "When I was back in India as Secretary of State, I once again met with a large group of SEWA, and this time learned they had more than a million members, they had just conducted an election to elect their leadership, they had moved into small businesses, not just the most basic kinds of subsistence income production, and they were a force, and they were being looked at by those around the world who saw what they had accomplished," she said.

"And I saw that firsthand, because when I first went to South Africa and went to Cape Town, I was taken out to a housing project, scrap land that women from the townships had claimed as their own after learning about SEWA and began building a village, again, the poorest of the poor living in tarpaper shacks who wanted something better," she said.

The US leader also mentioned about the second such settlement during her visit to Cape Town as Secretary of State. "This didn`t happen overnight, but it could not have happened without determined, dedicated, persistent, meddling, bothersome, annoying women leaders," Clinton said.

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