The International Handbook of Gender and Poverty
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The International Handbook of Gender and Poverty

Concepts, Research, Policy

Edited by Sylvia Chant

In the interests of contextualising (and nuancing) the multiple interrelations between gender and poverty, Sylvia Chant has gathered writings on diverse aspects of the subject from a range of disciplinary and professional perspectives, achieving extensive thematic as well as geographical coverage. This benchmark volume presents women’s and men’s experiences of gendered poverty with respect to a vast spectrum of intersecting issues including local to global economic transformations, family, age, ‘race’, migration, assets, paid and unpaid work, health, sexuality, human rights, and conflict and violence.
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Chapter 72: The Empowerment Trap: Gender, Poverty and the Informal Economy in Sub-Saharan Africa

Kate Meagher


Kate Meagher The ongoing expansion of the informal economy in the face of liberalisation and globalisation has fuelled debates about whether women’s increased participation in informal economic activity contributes to their empowerment or to their impoverishment. Economists and economic anthropologists have tended to see the informal economy as a source of economic opportunity for women in a sphere free of the gender-biased regulations of the formal economy (USAID, 2005). By contrast, more critical feminist and political-economy analyses have argued that the informal economy represents a poverty trap for women, concentrating them in low-skill, low-income activities with little prospect of advancement (see Chant and Pedwell, 2008; Chen et al., 2006; Sassen, Chapter 2, this volume, for discussions and references). In the past decade, statistical surveys confirm a significant increase in women’s informal sector participation, leading to what has been called the ‘feminisation of informal labour’ (Chant and Pedwell, 2008: 13). Across Africa, Asia and Latin America, 70 per cent of women in the non-agricultural labour force are informally employed, compared with less than 60 per cent of men (USAID, 2005: 18). This feminisation of informality is particularly pronounced in sub-Saharan Africa, where 84 per cent of women are in informal employment, as against 63 per cent of men. However, rising informal economic participation has been accompanied by an intensification rather than a reversal of gender disparities in income, economic opportunity and burdens of reproductive labour. Studies have shown that the gender disparity in income is higher in the informal economy than...

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