This paper explores the perceptions and experiences of women and men who work as informal waste collectors in four different cities. The purpose of this paper is to map out how…
This paper explores the perceptions and experiences of women and men who work as informal waste collectors in four different cities. The purpose of this paper is to map out how and to what extent occupational, political-legal, economic and social dynamics are experienced differently by gender in a highly vulnerable segment of the urban informal economy, and explore gender differences in these workers’ coping strategies and the levels of action they develop to protect their livelihoods.
The analysis is based on a mixed methods study which combined a quantitative survey of informal workers with a qualitative participatory methodology. Study participants were drawn from a purposive sample of informal workers who belong to, or are affiliated with, membership-based workers’ organisations. The sample consists of waste pickers (n=614) from Belo Horizonte, Brazil; Bogotá, Colombia; Durban, South Africa; and Nakuru, Kenya.
The data show that despite significant differences between women and men upon entry into (informal) employment, their perceptions of key drivers and impacts are largely similar, with the exception of concerns around various types of physical security among women. They also indicate that levels of action among men and women waste pickers are only moderately influenced by gender, but are strongly influenced by the degree of organisation in the sector and the symbolic assets held by workers. The findings also illustrate the way in which gendered power dynamics operate within the informal recycling sector and how different levels of sector organisation and development often contribute to opportunities for collective action and, in turn, a reduction in gendered vulnerabilities.
The study offers a new policy angle which connects the level of sector organisation and development with the levels of action taken by informal workers in adapting to different types of shocks, as well as what this means in terms of gender empowerment.