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Slum Dwellers International, International Development Research, International Solid Waste As, Women's World Banking, Habitat International Coalition


Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) is a global research - policy network that states as its aim to improve the status of the working poor, especially women, in the informal economy. Linked to the SEWA-inspired international movement of women in the informal economy, WIEGO has a diverse constituency cutting across the fields of action, research, and policy-making.


The WIEGO network was founded in April 1997 by a group of ten activists, researchers, and development practitioners, based around the globe, who worked on the informal economy and articulated a shared concern that the working poor, especially women, in the informal economy were not well understood, valued, or supported in policy circles or by the international development community. Among the founders was Professor Martha Chen, a Harvard Lecturer in Public Policy and currently WIEGO's International Coordinator. The founding steering committee chair was Indian civil rights leader Dr. Ela Bhatt.

The WIEGO secretariat is currently located at the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

In July 2007, WIEGO was registered as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee in the UK (WIEGO Ltd.) with a formal Constitution and Articles of Association. In 2011, WIEGO was granted charity status by the Charity Commission for England and Wales (Registered Charity No. 1143510).

Mission and Goals

WIEGO's stated mission: "WIEGO believes all workers should have equal economic opportunities and rights and be able to determine the conditions of their work and lives. WIEGO works to improve the status of the working poor, especially women, in the informal economy through increased organization and representation; improved statistics and research; more inclusive policy processes; and more equitable trade, labour, urban, and social protection policies."

WIEGO’s objectives, as detailed in the Register of Charities, are "to relieve poverty in particular the poverty of the working poor in the informal economy caused by low earnings, high risks, and adverse working environments and conditions associated with the informal economy worldwide (including non-standard or unprotected employment for formal firms)" by:

a) conducting and promoting research (making the useful results publicly.available) into the experiences and conditions of the working poor, the working environment and conditions within the informal economy, the wider policy and regulatory environments under which the informal workforce operates and the causes, effects and ways of addressing the poverty of the working poor within the informal economy;

b) advancing the education of policy decision-makers, the wider public, supporters of the working poor and the working poor themselves, in relation to the causes, effects and ways of addressing the poverty of the working poor within the informal economy;

c) helping organizations of the working poor to address the poverty of their members.

According to the Informal Waste Management Knowledge Hub, WIEGO seeks to help the working poor in the informal economy, especially women, achieve increased:

  • voice through stronger organizations of the working poor in the informal economy and by promoting their representation in policy-making and rule-setting processes;
  • visibility by undertaking and sponsoring research; helping to develop and improve official labour force and other economic statistics on informal employment and the informal economy; and convening and participating in research conferences; and
  • validity by demonstrating that the working poor in the informal economy contribute to the economy and society, and are legitimate targets of both economic and social policies.
  • Programmes and Activities

    WIEGO supports working poor women by aiming to ensure they have adequate information, knowledge and tools and can mobilize around their rights, enhancing their safety and their earnings.

    Activities centre around five core programmes; special projects and initiatives are also undertaken.

  • Organization and Representation seeks to strengthen membership-based organizations of informal workers, especially those that involve women as members and leaders, and build sector-specific networks of such organizations.
  • Statistics encourages the collection and use of data on the informal economy as an essential component of official statistics; works to improve classifications, concepts and methods for estimating the economic contribution of informal employment; and makes data and analysis available to policymakers, researchers and advocates in accessible formats.
  • Global Trade documents how global trade and investment policies impact informal workers, and promotes ethical and fair trade practices for homeworkers and small producer groups by building knowledge of their situation in select global value chains.
  • Social Protection examines the specific risks faced by informal workers, particularly women, and promotes innovative approaches to extending social protection coverage to informal workers, including occupational health and safety.
  • Urban Policies promotes urban planning, policies, and practices that are inclusive of the urban working poor by undertaking research, good practice documentation, and policy dialogues.
  • Global Projects involve partnerships with membership-based organizations of informal workers, e.g. the Inclusive Cities for the Working Poor project
  • Other Special Initiatives include technical and policy dialogues; collaborative research and advocacy; commissioned research for international agencies; and conferences or public events.
  • WIEGO does not set an agenda but rather support domestic workers, street vendors, waste pickers, garment workers, smallholder farmers and others are in articulating their own demands and participating directly in policy and planning processes.

    Specific Research and Action

    WIEGO commissions research that focuses on improving statistics on, and analyzing policies relating to, the working poor who make their living in the informal economy. Membership-based organizations (MBOs) of informal workers always involved in the identification, prioritization and design of WIEGO activities.

    Impact of Global Recession

    In 2009 and again in 2010, WIEGO coordinated Global Economic Crisis studies to determine how informal workers were being affected by the global economic downturn. The study was executed by organizations involved in the global Inclusive Cities project, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Two rounds of interviews and focus groups were conducted with 102 home-based workers, 63 street vendors and 54 waste pickers in 14 cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America. In 2009, 77 % of respondents reported their incomes had fallen in recent months, while 52% reported another decrease between mid-2009 and 2010.

    Findings from the first study, completed in 2009, are captured in "No Cushion to Fall Back On: The Global Economic Crisis and Informal Workers]". Findings from the second study are found in "Coping with Crises: Lingering Recession, Rising Inflation, and the Informal Workforce"ion=submit#" />

    Domestic Workers' Rights

    From 2009-2011, funding from the Government of Netherlands MDG3 Fund allowed WIEGO to assist domestic workers in their struggle for an international convention that would help secure their rights as workers. WIEGO helped establish the International Domestic Workers' Network (IDWN), and provided technical and strategic advice, research and capacity building, as well as assisting the IDWN in fund raising. Such practical support allowed domestic workers to represent themselves at the International Labour Conference (ILC) in 2010 and 2011. On June 16, 2011 governments, employers and workers from around the world adopted the Convention and accompanying Recommendation on Decent Work for Domestic Workers (Convention 189) at the 100th ILC in Geneva, Switzerland.


    WIEGO represents a collaboration between membership-based organizations of workers in the informal economy, support non-governmental organizations, research and statistics institutions, national governments, and international development agencies.

    Since its inception, the WIEGO network has invited membership from, and formed alliances with, three constituencies:

    1. membership-based organizations of informal workers, such as cooperatives, unions and associations
    2. researchers and statisticians who carry out research, data collection, or data analysis on the informal economy
    3. practitioners from development agencies (intergovernmental, governmental, non-governmental) who provide services to, or shape policies towards, the informal workforce

    Membership-based organizations of informal workers that are actively involved with WIEGO are asked to become Institutional Members. Individuals from the other two constituencies who are involved with WIEGO can become Individual Members. As of March 2014, the WIEGO network had 172 Members – 33 Institutional and 139 Individual Members – from 40 countries.

    A 10-person Board of Directors governs the WIEGO network. Board members are drawn from WIEGO’s three constituencies. The Board has two committees: a Management (or executive) Committee and a Financial Committee.

  • Renana Jhabvala (Chair), Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)/India
  • Kofi Asamoah, Ghana Trades Union Congress/Ghana
  • Barbro Budin, International Union of Food and Allied Workers (IUF)/Switzerland
  • Debra Davis (Treasurer), Independent Consultant/UK
  • Fandy Clarisse Gnahoui, StreetNet International/Benin
  • Ravi Kanbur, Cornell University/USA
  • Lin Lim, Independent Consultant/Malaysia
  • William Steel, University of Ghana/Ghana
  • Jeemol Unni, Institute of Rural Management, Anand/India
  • Carmen Vildoso, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru/Peru
  • Key Funders

  • The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Department for International Development (DFID)
  • The Ford Foundation
  • The Hewlett Foundation
  • Government of the Netherlands, MDG3 Fund
  • International Development Research Centre (IDRC)
  • Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
  • References

    WIEGO Wikipedia

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