Indian women’s self-sufficiency promoter wins Niwano Peace Prize

By on February 24, 2010

The Niwano Peace Foundation has announced it will award its 2010 peace prize to Ela Ramesh Bhatt, an Indian Hindu who is a follower of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, and who applies them to enable women to become self-sufficient.In a Feb. 24 statement announcing the winner of the Niwano Peace Prize, the foundation said Bhatt is “known as the ‘gentle revolutionary’,” It added, “She has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India’s poorest and most oppressed women workers.””In 1972, she founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association, a trade union now with more than 1.2 million members. In 1974, she founded the SEWA Cooperative Bank, which now has an outreach of three million women,” the statement said.The peace prize winner was a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament (the Rajya Sabha), and subsequently a member of the Indian Planning Commission. She founded and served as chair for Women’s World Banking, the International Alliance of Home-based Workers (HomeNet), Street Vendors (StreetNet), and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing Organizing.The Niwano award is given by the Japan-based Niwano Peace Foundation, and is often seen as akin to a Nobel Peace Prize for members of the faith community. The Buddhist group said on 24 February that the prize comes with 20 million yen (US$222 000), and that it will be awarded at a ceremony in Tokyo on May 13.The announcement of this year’s winner explained, “In selecting Ms Bhatt as an awardee for 2010, the Peace Prize Committee said she is ‘an inspiration to all of us with her commitment to uplifting the downtrodden by literally giving them the tools to be the authors of their own destiny’.”In 2009, the Niwano Peace Prize went to the Rev. Gideon Byamugisha, a Ugandan who became the first-known African cleric to declare publicly that he was HIV positive, and who thus broke the stigma-induced silence that those with the infection often maintain.The Niwano prize is named after the first president of the lay Buddhist organization, Rissho Kosei-kai, Nikkyo Niwano. He devoted much of the last half of his life to promoting world peace, especially through inter-religious discussion and cooperation.Past recipients of the prize include former World Council of Churches’ general secretary Philip Potter (1986), the World Muslim Congress (1987), the Corrymeela Community in Ireland (1997), the Acholi Religious Leaders’ Peace Initiative in Uganda (2004), theologian Hans Kung (2005), Rabbis for Human Rights (2006), and Dharma Master Cheng Yen (2007).

Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan was the 2008 winner for his peace-building efforts in the Middle East.

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