• Friday, November 27, 2015
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Mobilizing poor working women for economic equality: Women in Informal Employment: Globalisation and Organizing (WIEGO)

    Street Vendors. Credit: WIEGO

    In sharp contrast to the message of the 2011 World Bank Report on Gender and Equality that gender equality is ‘smart economics’ Women in Informal Employment Globalisation and Organising (WIEGO) makes no bones about it – women’s economic equality is the ONLY fair and just economics. WIEGO is not about ‘corrective development policy’ but about organizing and doing. Unlike the Bank, WIEGO does not see women as an investment but recognizes that women are the backbone of the ‘informal’ work force, the real economic work on the ground that sustains the livelihoods of millions of poor families and communities. Regardless of the development trends, and right now it seems gender is ‘in’ as the Bank’s flagship Report attests,  domestic workers, small producers, home-based workers, street vendors are keeping themselves and their families alive. WIEGO aims to support poor women’s work by ensuring they have the information and can mobilize around their rights to security and safety and a fair level of earnings.

    Most of all, WIEGO does not look to provide or impose an agenda with specific ‘priority areas’ measured and calculated as recommended by the World Bank Report. Instead it recognizes that poor working women have their own ways of organizing. If policy is to work it has to be listening to how these working women articulate their own needs. It is the donors who need to learn from women’s informal organizations if appropriate policy agendas are to be set.

    With the grant from the MDG3 Fund WIEGO provides specific knowledge and awareness to women in the informal sector on how to have access to markets, how to mobilize and take up their rights and make their own agenda in the policy arena. WIEGO works on many levels with a variety of different occupation groups of poor working women to ensure that they participate directly in policy and planning processes as contributing members of the economy.

    WIEGO’s longterm vision is for poor working women to have in place strong, democratic organizations in all sectors of the informal economy, and through these organizations to acquire visibility, voice and power.

    Such efforts are particularly important given today’s hostile environment. WIEGO’s long history in this field can count many successes from the HomeNets of homebased workers to StreetNet International bringing together street and market vendor associations around the world and to Waste Picker Networks in Latin America.  Their website carries daily news of successes of their members gaining visibility voice and power in demanding their rights despite the global recession.

    The MDG3 Fund  has helped WIEGO improve the working lives of women informal workers in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Central Europe, and Eastern Europe to mobilize around international labour laws. WIEGO’s projects work from the ground up, with a rights based and holistic approach to economic equality projects that involve domestic workers, street vendors, waste pickers, construction workers, garment workers, smallholder farmers and transport workers. They are the women who are working at the very bottom of the supply chain, with little social or legal recognition and among the most hit in today’s growing economic crisis.

    One of the major successes of WIEGO in 2010 and 2011 with the assistance of the MDG3 Fund has been to support domestic workers to form their own network and mobilizations by providing technical support, advising on strategy, providing research and capacity building and assisting in fund raising. Such practical support allowed domestic women to represent themselves in major policy fora and to fight for their rights to be part of the decent work initiatives.
    A huge success was scored on June 16, 2011 when governments, employers and workers from around the world adopted the Convention and accompanying Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers at the 100th International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland. ‘Convention 189’ was approved by 396 votes in favour, 16 against and 63 abstentions. The accompanying Recommendation was even more overwhelmingly approved with 434 votes in favour, 8 against and 42 abstentions.

    As Juan Somavia, Director-General of the ILO, stated at the adoption of the Convention, “We are moving the standards system of the ILO into the informal economy for the first time, and this is a breakthrough of great significance. History has been made.”

    The adoption of the Convention 189 impacts the lives of 50–100 million people worldwide who work in the homes of their employers. The Convention recognizes the “significant contribution of domestic workers to the global economy … mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities.” It aims to reverse the undervalued and invisible nature of this crucial women’s work.

    This victory however is just beginning. There is now an ongoing campaign for domestic workers’ rights in order to push governments to ratify the Convention and incorporate it into national laws in order to ensure domestic workers enjoy fundamental rights and effective protection against all forms of abuse, harassment and violence Domestic workers are now, together with WIEGO, organizing to advocate for this ratification, national laws and implementation of the laws.

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