WISE undertakes research to identify entry points for engaging and supporting women workers

WISE Development has recently undertaken a scoping study to inform investment and operational strategy for the Open Society Foundation (OSF) Economic Advancement Program (EAP). The EAP will seek to increase economic benefits for female workers, particularly those working in the informal sector, and to increase the voice of women in economic policy making.

The WISE team comprises Georgia Taylor (Technical Director), Sally Smith (Senior Research Lead), Federica Busiello and Tom Wright (Research Assistants). The scoping study examines which regions globally possess the greatest potential for OSF to engage with women’s economic empowerment (WEE).

The WISE team developed a research model that combined an overarching framework together with a country specific focus that suits the broad mandate of the EAP itself. Key considerations were to identify, initially through a desk review study, which countries demonstrated political, legislative or institutional conditions conductive for WEE (such as strong Women’s Rights Organisations (WROs), informal workers’ associations or trade union movements); and which countries have interesting programmes and initiatives around the theme of women’s economic advancement. Based on these considerations, reports were prepared for nine countries spread across the MENA and SSA regions.

These nine regions were later refined on the basis of geographical spread and the work OSF is already undertaking in these countries to support feminist economics, to four case studies; Kenya; Morocco; Ghana and Malawi. Sally also conducted a country visit to Malawi to investigate conditions on the ground.The study examines women working in both the formal and informal sector, with the latter constituting a particularly neglected topic.

As the team notes, greater research into this area is necessary given that one of the key challenges for WEE is that most economic policy-making seemingly ignores the fact that nearly 90% of the working population, particularly women, work in the informal economy, and that this sector needs support to thrive. Ascertaining the level of activity in the informal economy is, by its very nature, difficult. Yet the team’s findings support the general consensus that this shadow economy constitutes the major employment source in the countries surveyed. It is a sector in which women are both over-represented and at the same time, very much overlooked. It is a sector where employment conditions are often precarious and where wages are nominal.  Informal workers are usually not covered, or insufficiently covered, by formal protection, leaving them without legal or social protection.

The WISE team has provided OSF with a series of recommendations that identify entry points to promote WEE. Informal economy associations have either created their own organisations or have created federated bodies at a national level in both Ghana and Kenya. Higher levels of women’s education in MENA regions means there are opportunities for women to work in newly emerging sectors, such as technology. OSF can support WRO’s through partnerships and shared-learning, and by further developing organisational capacities.

By combining social impact investments in private sector enterprises with grants to community and civil society groups, the EAP will help ensure that economically and socially marginalized women are better able to access their basic labour rights.




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