Women Informal Workers are on the Frontlines of the Pandemic
Two billion people, 61 per cent of the global work force, work in the informal economy. The majority live in poverty and are vulnerable to shocks and crises. Women are in the most vulnerable, low paid or unpaid forms of informal employment and often lack social protection.
Publisert: 25.02.2021 Redigert: 25.02.2021
This includes domestic work, home-based work, street vending and market trading and waste picking. For women informal workers the pandemic is a health, economic and care crisis that threatens their lives and reinforces gender, class and ethnic inequalities.
WIEGO - a global advocacy, policy and research network including informal workers organisations, researchers, and development practitioners - is supporting women informal workers to respond to the pandemic. A rapid assessment conducted with informal workers organisations and global networks highlights the ways their incomes are impacted:
- Decline in demand for goods and services: Home-based workers saw their sales fall as large economies closed their borders. Domestic workers lost their jobs.
- Increased cost of inputs: Home-based workers and informal traders saw a rapid increase in the price of raw materials once China closed its borders.
- Inability to access markets: Farmers, informal traders and waste pickers cannot sell their goods due to physical distancing, curfews and lockdowns.
- Increase in care burden: School and daycare closures meant that women were among the first to stop working or reduce their hours to care for children.
- Rising incidence of violence: Women informal workers face violence in their employers’ homes as domestic workers, in public spaces at the hands of security forces, and in their own homes.
Informal workers organisations are responding by distributing food, producing masks and disseminating health information in their communities. They are negotiating to be designated as essential workers – such as food vendors or waste pickers – and continue working during lockdowns. As governments rapidly design cash transfers to reach informal workers – these organisations are identifying beneficiaries, supporting registrations and tracking implementation.
Despite these efforts, women informal workers face a permanent loss of income. Their mounting care responsibilities will push them towards more flexible and low-paid work that they can do alongside their care work. Many domestic workers cannot return to work as their employers are now unemployed. Home-based workers and informal traders dependent on the tourism sector will see sales stagnate.
To mitigate the short-term and long-term adverse impacts of the pandemic on women informal workers, governments and donors can:
- Sustain in-kind and cash transfers not just during the health crisis, but until economies begin to recover. Women need transfers to cover the costs of care. Governments and donors can learn from the extension of social protection to informal workers during COVID-19 to build more universal social protection systems that can better protect women informal workers.
- Invest in care services – including healthcare and childcare – to create new decent work opportunities for the unemployed, guarantee quality care for children, the elderly and ill, and redistribute women’s care responsibilities as per Sustainable Development Goals 3, 4, 5, 8 and 10.
- Include women informal workers in economic recovery packages by freezing rental and loan payments, providing access to business grants, public procurement contracts and public works programs. This can reduce poverty and hunger.
- Support women informal workers’ organisations to mobilise so their voices are heard in relief efforts and economic recovery plans.
 WIEGO. 2020. Impact of Public Health Measures on Informal Livelihoods and Health. WIEGO. Regional and international networks of informal workers include: HomeNet Eastern and Central Europe, HomeNet South Asia, HomeNet South East Asia, International Domestic Workers Federation and StreetNet International.
This text was originally published in the 1/2020 edition of our magazine iFokus. Read the magazine.