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Expanding social protection to informal women workers for better COVID-19 recovery in Uganda

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Key Considerations

Uganda has female labor force participation of 67 percent. While some efforts to advance social protection are being made, Uganda currently spends only about 3.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) towards that end. Meanwhile, the National Employment Policy (2010) covers social security only for workers in the formal sector, leaving informal workers not covered. Intentional targeting and expansion of the social protection program to informal women workers is an economic investment that would shield informal businesses and households from the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic shocks and closures.

What is at stake?

Gendered impacts of the pandemic on women workers in the informal economy

The informal services sector workers are unprotected. They do not have a choice in determining the terms and conditions of employment. The informal services sector is predominately female and gender norms play.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women in the informal economy, such as street vendors, domestic and home-based workers without social protection in place are more suscesptible to insecure working environments with discriminatory policies, and there is limited access to grievance and redress mechanisms (ILO, 2018).

Most women who work within the informal sector reside in informal settlements (APHRC, 2012) and are at a higher risk of violence, with limited access to health services. Less control over their mobility, inadequate access to resources, and decision making often means less access to sexual reproductive health services (Miller, 2012).

The existing norms, gender-based discrimination in the workforce, and inequalities in the informal sector, also make women vulnerable to varied forms of violence within and outside their homes. As a result, women’s low bargaining power in informal labor markets, coupled with a lack of robust protection mechanisms, make them particularly susceptible to violence at work. Further, many small business owners, vendors face harassment at the hands of law enforcement and other authorities with few options for legal redress. Domestic violence spilled into the ecosystem for many home-based workers, more so due to COVID-19 related shocks resulting in lockdowns, income loss, job loss, and lack of access support networks.

In Uganda, social protection mechanisms include cash transfers to vulnerable groups, pensions for the elderly, and grants to children headed households and people with disabilities.