UN Women's Fund Promotes Decent Work for the Working Poor

Monday, July 26 2010

With the informal sector providing the major employment for women worldwide, the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) today called on Governments to improve the sector as they calculate progress towards the reduction of poverty in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

"We can't look at poverty without looking at feminized poverty,"UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer said as she introduced to journalists the fund's latest report, Progress of World's Women 2005: Women, Work and Poverty, prepared for the UN World Summit next month.

Many governments base political decisions in the economic sphere on the male as head of the household and fail to invest in areas where women are working, with the result that women's meagre informal sector earnings cannot lift families out of poverty without other sources of income, she said.

Progress 2005 provides the latest data on the size and composition of the informal economy in different regions and compares official national data on average earnings and poverty risk in informal and formal workforces in several countries. It makes the case that unless women's economic security is strengthened, progress towards the MDGs will be limited. Ms. Heyzer said the working poor make up a significant number of those in informal employment, but the women among them are concentrated further down the chain of quality and security and have fewer opportunities for the education, training and credit that could help them find better, safer means of income. In addition, in virtually all countries and traditions of the world, working at unpaid care in the household and community puts demands on women's time and limits the kind of employment they can take up, she said, giving health care as an example. "When you have a situation where health-care systems break down because countries are not able to invest in their healthcare system, or you have a situation of high cases of, say, HIV/AIDS, you find that women are brought out and they become the health-care system," she said.

Rather than formalizing informal work as economies grow, the report says, work is moving from formal to informal, from regulated to unregulated, with workers losing job security, along with medical and other benefits, and working in conditions that are frequently unhealthy and unsafe. Informal employment accounts for 50 to 80 per cent of total non-agricultural employment in developing countries, with the percentage rising if agriculture is included, while in the rich, developed world, self-employment, part-time and temporary work comprise about 20 to 30 per cent of total employment, the report adds. It is not enough to have governments or workers' organizations, civil society or the multilateral system take on the agenda of poverty eradication, Ms. Heyzer said.

"The private sector corporations also have to take greater responsibility for the kinds of jobs that they generate,and codes of conduct must be subject to social auditing," she said. The report recommends increasing the assets, access and competitiveness of the working poor, both self-employed and wage-employed, improving their terms of trade in the global marketplace, and securing for them appropriate legal and social protection and rights. Women's informal work should also be made visible through gender-sensitive, disaggregated national labour statistics, it says.


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