Women's Economic Empowerment

Most women informal workers face triple barriers to economic empowerment: as women (due to gender norms and relationships), as workers (due to their often informal status) and as members of disadvantaged communities (who often live in underserved slum and squatter settlements).

Ahmedabad, India: Neighbourhood women gather outside their homes to discuss the area upkeep and work issues.
photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images Reportage

Bias and Barriers

While informal workers represent a majority in developing countries, most supports, social protection, laws and policies are biased towards formal workers and formal enterprises. These include sectoral policies, infrastructure services, social protection, child care and occupational health and safety systems, and institutions for collective bargaining, policymaking and rule-setting.

To overcome these structural barriers, WIEGO emphasizes that women informal workers need to be organized and their organizations need to be legally recognized and officially represented in collective bargaining, policy-making and rule-setting processes.

WIEGO's Approach to Women's Economic Empowerment

Through our work with membership-based organizations, we have learned that increased access to resources without the ability to influence broader external factors will not necessarily translate into more secure and remunerative livelihoods.

For WIEGO, empowerment refers to the process of change that gives working poor women – as individual workers and as members of worker organizations – the ability to gain access to the resources they need while also gaining the ability to influence the wider policy, regulatory, and institutional environment that shapes their livelihoods and lives.

Read more about WIEGO’s position and approach to women’s economic empowerment.

What WIEGO Does

WIEGO seeks to advance the economic empowerment of women in the informal economy through five core programmes that work to:

Increase Voice by supporting and strengthening organizations of the working poor and linking organizations together. We also help them gain representation in the policymaking and rule-setting bodies that affect their work and lives.

Increase Visibility by undertaking or sponsoring research and helping to develop and improve official statistics on informal employment and the informal economy.  

Increase Validity by promoting the mainstream recognition of informal workers as legitimate economic agents who contribute to the overall economy and who should benefit from economic and social policies. We also advance the incorporation of informal workers into policymaking and rule-setting processes.

WIEGO works principally with four occupational groups of informal workers where women are over-represented among the lower earners: domestic workers, home-based workers, waste pickers and street vendors. WIEGO engages with membership-based organizations (MBOs) of these workers in advocacy and action from the municipal to the international level.

Focal Cities

WIEGO Child Care Campaign

WIEGO has taken a focused approach to its work in five Focal Cities, where we work closely with MBOs to support their efforts to improve outcomes for urban informal workers, especially women.

Global Advocacy

Because child care is a key factor in women's economic empowerment, WIEGO has launched a global Child Care Campaign.

WIEGO works to ensure that the voices of informal workers, and the visibility of their challenges, are represented in global agenda-setting processes. Here are recent examples.

In 2018, WIEGO Senior Advisor Marty Chen spoke to Oxfam Canada, the IDRC and Global Affairs Canada about the importance of an intersectionality approach to women's economic empowerment. See her presentation. This approach is reflected, in part, in the Oxfam Canada publication "A Feminist Approach to Women’s Economic Empowerment: How Canada Can Lead on Addressing the Neglected Area’s of WEE."


United Nations High Level Panel on Women's Economic Empowerment

The United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel (UN HLP) for Women’s Economic Empowerment is a yearlong initiative (March 2016 - 2017) that brings together leaders from civil society and the private and public sectors to explore pathways and identify priorities for improving economic outcomes for women.

The panel launched its first report titled, “Leave No one Behind: A Call to Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment,” at the UN General Assembly in September 2016. The panel launched its second, follow-up report in March 2017.
The efforts of the WIEGO network are reflected in the panel report: Informal workers are included as one of the four focal worker groups, and the need for increased voice, visibility and validity of informal workers is clearly established. In addition, the report outlines a set of recommendations for improving outcomes for informal workers including: extension of legal recognition, identity and protection; extension of labour rights; inclusion of organizations of informal workers in rule-setting, policy making and collective bargaining processes; favorable regulation of public space; and support for training for informal workers.

Read about WIEGO’s participation in the UN HLP process.

Read our blog post “Towards a Transformative Agenda for Women’s Economic Empowerment”

Past WIEGO Projects Focused on Women's Economic Empowerment

While all of WIEGO's work seeks to improve the economic circumstances of women working in the informal economy, these projects have a particular focus on women's economic empowerment.

Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment
Promoting Women's Economic Empowerment
This project received support from the
Government of the Netherlands,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Securing Economic Rights for Informal Women Workers
Securing Economic Rights
for Informal Women Workers

This project received support from the 
Government of the Netherlands,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Securing Economic Rights for Informal Women Workers
Waste & Gender


The Gender & Waste Project in Minas Gerais, Brazil, was initiated to bring gender consciousness to the forefront of the discussion among waste pickers.