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Female workers in the informal sector

WIEGO / The informal economy is often stigmatized as a "shadow economy" and characterized as illegal and unethical. Such generalization is unfair to the vast majority of two billion informal workers trying to earn a decent living.



The unique WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing) network, which is based on researchers, development workers and activists worldwide in interaction with poor workers, has become an important influencing agent with respect to local, national and global power. WIEGO is a global network that prioritizes empowering poor working people, especially women in the informal economy, to improve their living situation. The starting point is that all employees must have equal economic opportunities, rights, protection and vote. 

WIEGO was founded in 1997 by ten activists, researchers and development workers. Everyone was concerned that the poor in the informal economy were not understood, valued or supported politically – neither nationally nor by the international community. Today, through global political debate, WIEGO continues to create an understanding of women's challenges in the informal sector in particular.

One of WIEGO's first contributions was to develop a conceptual framework to enable data collection and improve knowledge and understanding of the sector. The fact that one succeeds in defining and getting recognition of informal workers in, among others, the International Labor Organization (ILO) means that today we know that 61 per cent of employment globally is informal. Globally, 2 billion people lack legal and social protection, including access to health insurance and health services.

Lacks protection

In the Global South, only a small minority of workers have access to such protection. In the global north of the 21st century, formerly protected workers are seeing their rights erode. The future of workers is that they will face greater risk and uncertainty than ever before. The trends are driven by globalisation, major changes in technology and reorganization of production. While the opportunities for a battle of interests are diminishing, the influence of companies is growing. Workers need legal, regulatory and political support at all levels – from the global to the local – to protect their basic rights. The challenge of increasing risk and uncertainty is particularly pressing for female workers in developing countries, of whom only eight percent are formally employed.

These are home-based workers, street vendors, market traders and litter pickers.

As a global network, WIEGO's membership includes researchers, statisticians and politicians as well as member-based organizations (MBOs). Members are mobilized and advocate for better working conditions, social and legal protection, and for formal recognition of poor workers. 

WIEGO seeks practical and sustainable systemic change for informal sector workers: by strengthening the voice of informal workers in policy-making and rule-setting institutions; increase their visibility through developing official statistics, cutting-edge research and public profiling; as well as to ensure their recognition as legitimate workers and economic operators.

WIEGO's work is organized into five core programs based on the members' strategic needs: organization and representation, statistics, law, social protection and urban policy. The programs often work together to increase 00

the effects. They are based on a wealth of knowledge from experts, researchers and activists
displays. All of WIEGO's work is done in close collaboration with and on the basis of the needs of the workers' member organisations. Informal workers' voices are represented through organization in democratic member organisations. They enable participation in policy-making and in processes that establish rules for working life. 

WIEGO connects individuals and organizations of informal workers to build regional and global networks. These are home-based workers, street vendors, market traders and litter pickers. 

WIEGO's work is based on the principle of co-production and depends on strategic alliances. The leaders in the member-based networks and partner organizations are full partners in all projects from the beginning. WIEGO's network includes 211 members: 39 institutional and 172 individual members from around the world. Currently, over 2,4 million informal workers in 91 countries are represented through the institutional membership. 

Today we know that 61 percent of global employment is informal.

Thorough and lasting collaborations with partners in this political community have proved crucial for WIEGO's success. The partners in the political-strategic cooperation include the International Labor Organization, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, UN Women and the United Nations Development Program among many others. And the global labor movement. Such alliances secure informal work a place in broad debates, strengthen common agendas and maximize impact.

Results and effects

Central to WIEGO's work is strengthening global networks in occupational sectors where women are overrepresented. There are currently three such networks that WIEGO has helped build and continues to support: StreetNet International (representing street and market vendors): HomeNet International (home-based workers) and the International Domestic Workers Federation (home workers).

Worldwide, very few litter pickers are recognized for their efforts and do not have access to social protection from the state either. Where they organize, this changes. WIEGO supports them in their efforts to establish a global network to strengthen their interest work. In the coming years, WIEGO expects to establish a democratic, representative network of waste pickers so that they too can increase their participation globally. 

WIEGO was among the first organizations to show how workers in the informal sector were affected by covid-19. They quickly began, through their network, to gather information and analyze the effects of both the pandemic and the responses to it. The crisis required immediate action. A study of the effects of the pandemic on informal workers was carried out in twelve different cities. WIEGO gathered all the requirements in a separate framework. It contained concrete examples of the needs these had for immediate assistance and longer-term reforms.

Trust and solidarity

WIEGO is the world's foremost expert on informal employment among women. Throughout its 25-year history, WIEGO has influenced global political discussions and international norms that determine the possibility of decent work. The foundation is trust and solidarity with and among the workers and their organizations – common platforms and open political spaces where women who are employed in the informal sector can represent themselves and convey their lived experiences. This is how politics change. 

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