Session 49

K3 Between Precarity and Formality: Interrogating the Gendered Spaces of Informality in the Global South

The session seeks to provide avenue for critical discourse of the nature and dynamics of the informal sector in the global South especially from the perspective of the role of women in that sector. In effect, it seeks to interrogate the imaginations of the informal sector as a spatial space not only for gendered participation or involvement but ironically as a sector where the involvement of women in the formal sector economy is systematically stultified. To this end, while the participation of women in this sector may be applauded as reflecting the critical role of women in national economies and economic survival of families, it may at the same time represent a sector of least resistance and where participation is not only placatory but effectively limits the aspiration of women to make inroads into the formal economy. In addition, the informal sector given it nature may appear the bastion of labour precarity in the global South and thus has implications for deepening ‘genderization’ of poverty and insecurity. In other words, there is the suspicion that women’s participation in this sector while serving short-term and immediate needs of family survival may incidentally be exposing these women to precarious involvement in the economy. Thus, while the informal sector is a proliferating and popular component of state economy in the global South, there is little doubt that it may also produce and reproduce precarity whether defined as an economic or social condition of existence. Therefore, the sector is characterised largely by both uncertainty and instability and exposes participants to livelihoods mired in precarity with its noted anxiety and psychological trauma. While one can consider informality a largely urban phenomenon, there is need to be cognisant of the established fluidity of social and physical boundaries between the urban and the rural. Even much more interesting is that the phenomenon of urban informality may be beneficial of as well as driver of rural – urban migration. Thus, informality and the perceived opportunities it promises may be a push factor in rural – urban migration in the global South. It is equally possible that despite the benefits of cursory observations, the apprehension of the varied roles of women in the informal sector may have been constrained by conventional methodological frameworks. In other words, there may be need to interrogate the adequacy and validity of these social science methods in the nuanced understanding of the role of gender in informality. Following from the above, while the session would investigate the gendered nature of the informal sector, we also hope to stimulate discussions on how there is an inverse relationship between such informal sector participation and entry of women into the formal sector. Therefore, papers that adopt a micro approach that provide not only thick descriptions but avail us of the intricacies and nuances of women’s involvement in the informal economy are especially welcome.
However, apart from theoretically grounded papers, we would appreciate case studies and empirical papers that illustrate the structural, institutional, and social challenges and experiences of women in the informal economy in the global South. Given the foregoing, the session would among other things welcome papers that seek to answer or throw more light on the following questions: (1.) What is role of gender in informality in the global South? (2) What are drivers of informal sector involvement and how are these drivers mediated by gender? (3.) To what extent is informality consistent with precarity and deepening poverty in the global South? (4.) Which informal sector jobs or vocations are predominately gendered and why? (5.) What are the institutional and structural forces that predispose informality especially the involvement of women? (6.) What is the relationship between informal sector involvement of women and family survival in urban global South? (7.) How are gender and exchange relations mediated in the informal sector? (8.) What is the role of gender in informality in the global South and how does it differ between rural and urban settings? (9.) What are the historical and social barriers to the transition of women from the informal to the formal sector? (10.) How is informal sector involvement by women ironically a systematic confinement of these women in this space and the shrinking of the space for formal sector involvement by the women? (11.) What social and economic forces make the informal sector amenable or consistent with institutionalized gender roles and imaginations in the global South? (12.) What methodologies enable the deeper understanding or exploration of the gendered spaces of informality in the global South? The session welcomes papers that focus on the above questions as well as on related themes in the informal sector in the global South.