The majority of women workers in developing countries – and a significant share of women workers in developed countries – are informally employed. Thus, any assessment of women’s economic empowerment needs to place a primary focus on the economic empowerment of women informal workers. This paper opens with overviews of statistical data and research findings on women and men in the informal economy (Sections I and II). The paper then provides an analytical framework for assessing what constrains and disempowers women informal workers (Section III). It makes the case that for conceptual and policy purposes it is important to distinguish between different groups of women informal workers by status in employment, branch of economic activity and place of work; and that economic class (i.e. status as informal workers/operators) and gender norms (i.e. status as women) interact to undermine the power of women informal workers vis-à-vis both markets and the state. Section IV provides a policy framework and examples of what can be done to lift these constraints and to empower women informal workers. The paper concludes with recommendations for future action.


Chen, Martha. "Expanding the Economic Potential of Women Informal Workers." Secretariat, UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, December 2016.