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Unpacking Issues in the Gig Economy: How Can We Empower Women?

By Sylwyn C. Calizo Jr. Lima, Peru | 08 March 2024

Blog_Gig economy

While gig work opens new opportunities for women, it also brings certain challenges such as socio-cultural gender biases.

It’s a clear, bright and sunny morning greeting Manila. And somewhere in the city, Gloria has been busy organizing for another day of delivering food using her newfound app. Her daughter, Bea, is already prepared for a video call with her client in San Francisco.

Gloria and Bea are just two of the millions of women working independently as gig workers. Across APEC economies, female gig workers make up between 19 percent and 56 percent of total gig workers. Now, it’s important to underline that the interest shown by women in the gig economy suggests its potential to inspire inclusion. In fact, women are motivated to do gig work because it offered flexibility that traditional jobs didn’t have.

Of course, gig workers can also participate for other reasons, depending on income, purpose and necessity. But like Gloria and Bea, gig workers get paid for each task that they complete, which is normally short-term, temporary and on-demand. Ideally, gig workers should enjoy a high level of independence that lets them decide what tasks to take and which clients to work with. But lines are blurred in practice. For example, Bea is free to choose her clients but Gloria isn’t since her app already does that for her.

While gig work opens new opportunities for women, it also brings certain challenges. Some challenges affect men and women the same but others may be unequal. Socio-cultural gender biases are one such challenge. Left alone, biases can cause women to work in stereotypical roles such as clerical and data entry, and caregiving.

Sometimes female gig workers can also face sexual harassment and discrimination. This happens because tasks done by female gig workers can take place in intimate and vulnerable personal spaces. Homes, for example, are spaces beyond the usual eye of regulators.

Women can also fall prey to unequal pay and difficult access to money. On average, female gig workers globally earned 11 percent less than men. Having a lower pay reduces what women can use to buy equipment, obtain skills and pursue education.

These challenges can make women like Gloria and Bea feel vulnerable, undervalued, and unfairly treated. Of course, making the gig economy a better place is an effort that everyone has and can contribute to. One way to help is to invest in women. Laws that prevent gender discrimination in accessing money and loans are good, but these need to go with the right change in attitude and people’s views.

Communities can also provide targeted learning opportunities and skills development training. Educators, for example, can start by offering certain skills, such as price negotiation, proficiency in local language, and self-confidence. Training in advanced technology skills can also help women take higher paying tasks.

At the end of the day, advancing women’s economic empowerment and integration is a work in progress. To inspire inclusion is to understand that issues can be felt unequally. Indeed, it is meaningful to recognize that not all gig workers require the same assistance. Acknowledging the many circumstances that people face is the first step to invest in women.

Sylwyn Calizo Jr. is a researcher for the APEC Policy Support Unit and co-author of the policy brief Unpacking Issues in the Gig Economy: Policy Approaches to Empower Women in APEC.

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