Women's Economic Empowerment

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

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).

Formal sources of protection and support as well as existing legal and policy frameworks are biased towards formal workers and formal enterprises to the disadvantage of informal workers who represent the majority of workers and enterprises in developing countries, including:  sectoral policies, infrastructure services, social protection, child care and occupational health and safety systems, and institutions for collective bargaining, policy-making and rule-setting.

WIEGO emphasizes that to overcome these structural barriers, 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. Through our work with MBOs of informal workers, 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, then, 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.

WIEGO's Approach to Women's Economic Empowerment

WIEGO seeks to advance the economic empowerment of women in the informal economy through five core programmes: organization and representation, statistics, urban policies, law and social protection. These programs work to increase the voice, visibility and validity of women in the informal economy.

Increased Voice – WIEGO works to support and strengthen organizations of the working poor and to link organizations together. We also help them gain representation in the policy making and rule-setting bodies that affect their work and lives.

Increased Visibility – WIEGO undertakes and sponsors research and helps to develop and improve official statistics on informal employment and the informal economy. We produce a publication series and maintain a web resource on the informal economy. 

Increased Validity – WIEGO promotes the mainstream recognition of informal workers as legitimate economic agents who contribute to the overall economy and are legitimate beneficiaries of 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: 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

In recent years, WIEGO has taken a focused approach to its work in two cities: Accra, Ghana and Lima, Peru. Working closely with local partners, WIEGO implemented a range of programmes and projects in each location. During 2016, we added Bangkok, Thailand and Delhi, India and beginning in January 2017, WIEGO intends to extend four Focal City initiative to include Dakar, Senegal and Mexico City, Mexico, building on previous work.

Global Advocacy

WIEGO continually works to ensure that the voices of informal workers, and the visibility of their challenges, are represented in global agenda-setting processes. In 2016 WIEGO engaged in the Habitat III process and the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, described below.


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 Towards Women’s Economic Empowerment”


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.