Chapter 16: Women in the informal economy and the impact of technological change
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Across the world and over time, female labour force participation rates are lower than male rates, even as the gender gap seems downward oriented in the recent period. Meanwhile the burden of unpaid domestic and care work mainly rests on women’s shoulders, and the socio-cultural or familial necessity to perform their productive work at home considerably restricts women’s opportunities for employment. As a consequence, the risk of being bound to work informally, especially as home-based workers, is much higher for women than for men. This chapter provides some empirical evidences of such trends, before looking at the various potential impacts of technological changes on women’s working and living conditions. In developing countries, mitigating the burden of domestic tasks remains limited, but opportunities for time saving exist in unpaid activities such as water and wood/fuel fetching through the introduction of various improved and adapted technologies. ICTs, and especially mobile phones, are also important means within reach of informal micro-businesses or even income-generating activities. The chapter provides illustrative examples of poor women shea nuts gatherers and shea butter processors in Northern Ghana who were able to widen their place at the bottom of the global value chain, and of informal workers benefiting from a platform of services in Mozambique. Lastly, digitisation, robotisation and the economies of platforms, far from being unrelated to the development of the informal economy, are revealed as new sources of informalisation in various industries, including female-dominated industries, all the more so as the need to work from home still remains essential for vulnerable working women such as single mothers. Click workers who are more likely to be home based thus replace the former task workers and the seeds of labour informalisation processes remain perennial at the heart of the new industrial revolution.

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