A local lens to influence policies and increase women’s access to decent work in the Global South

PEP researchers across six countries in the Global South (Peru, Brazil, Kenya, Senegal, Philippines, and Sri Lanka) studied the context-specific barriers women face in accessing decent work and identified effective policy solutions to address these. Decent work provides a fair income, safe and healthy working conditions, job security, as well as equal opportunities and treatment for all, according to the International Labour Organization. This research was conducted with PEP support through a recently-concluded research program, funded by Co-Impact.

Common to each country, the researchers found that regressive social norms—that disproportionately place the burden of childcare and household responsibilities on women, inhibit their access to education, and compromise their general safety—are a key limiting factor.

An earlier PEP blog dives deeper into the barriers women face and how these can be addressed through meaningful policy reforms, and PEP’s Executive Director Prof. Jane Mariara unpacks how motherhood impacts female labour force participation in decent work across countries in her LinkedIn newsletter

 

In this blog—the final part of the series—we draw on the experiences of the country teams to understand how policy pathways can only be shaped effectively through an informed perspective. Their in-depth local knowledge and enhanced stakeholder engagement mean the teams are better able to influence and guide policies than their Northern-based colleagues. This is in line with PEP’s commitment to promote local leadership and ensure support for Southern researchers to lead policy solutions for their countries.

PEP believes that local researchers possess a deep understanding of local resources, challenges, and cultural contexts unique to their communities. This knowledge empowers them to create tailor-made policies and foster collaboration among diverse stakeholders. The impact is evident: over 50% of PEP’s 400 research projects over the last two decades have demonstrably influenced policy debates and decisions.

In-depth local knowledge

Brazil

Finding: In Brazil, 74% of women felt that having children hindered their career progression. Despite legal safeguards, women perceived subtle forms of discrimination such as being removed from the hiring list or any professional promotion when they reported expecting a child.

Observing individuals on a daily basis in a local context enables us to better understand gender sensitivities than any other foreign researcher. For example, we generally observe that men believe that the responsibility of taking a child to the doctor is the mother's chore and never theirs. And this cuts across socio-economic strata. Even when they are highly educated (such as professors in universities), we have not come across a man saying: "I was not able to participate in this meeting because I had to take my son to his pediatrician". However, a woman often cites this as a reason in her work environment.

- Filipe Lage de Sousa, Project Team Leader

 

Peru

Finding: Less than 25% of women in Peru who are employed work in the formal sector.

The labour market in Peru is characterized by high levels of informality, significantly surpassing the regional average. Understanding this was key to the methodological design of the research as we not only analyzed the barriers to labor participation but also labour conditions. Additionally, we chose to examine not only the barriers women face in accessing decent work – as formally understood by the International Labor Organization – but also measured their barriers to accessing non-precarious work. The latter type of work entails minimum labour conditions, such as having a minimum wage, which are more realistically attainable by women in informal jobs in the short term.

- Lorena Alcazar, Project Team Leader

 

Senegal

Finding: Seven out of 10 women in Senegal have been employed in vulnerable jobs over the last three decades.

Having an innate understanding of the local context and gender sensitivities in Senegal was crucial in conducting the research project. It allowed us to build trust and rapport with the community, ensuring that we approached the research with cultural sensitivity and respect. This enabled us to gather more accurate and nuanced data, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of the barriers women face in accessing decent work opportunities in different regions of the country.

- Malick Diallo, Project Team Leader

 

Sri Lanka

Finding: Only 7.6% of working-age women in Sri Lanka are employed in decent work, with most low-skilled women employed in agriculture and manufacturing.

Being aware of local gender dynamics enabled us to design and select a study framework aimed at capturing the local context effectively. This awareness facilitated the use of appropriate language, the selection of representative samples, and the consideration of societal norms and expectations in interpreting the findings and formulating policy recommendations. Moreover, being part of the local context also helped us in establishing credibility and trust among stakeholders and policymakers, as they are more inclined to engage with researchers who demonstrate an understanding and respect for their cultural, social, and political environment.

- Sri Lanka Project Team

 

Enhanced stakeholder engagement

Brazil

This is where we think that we have a clear advantage compared to foreign researchers because we are following the government’s initiatives more closely. For instance, the Brazilian Supreme Court established a deadline for the Congress to legislate about paternity leave, which was one of the topics of our research. A foreign researcher would not be able to know these actions and have a dialogue with policymakers at topical moments.

- Filipe Lage de Sousa, Project Team Leader

 

Peru

Due to our vast experience in working on policy-relevant research, we had key government contacts who we were able to interview to deepen our understanding of the main challenges that women face to access decent work. This, in turn, made our results and policy recommendations more relevant.

- Lorena Alcazar, Project Team Leader

 

Kenya

We had two government officers who were part of the research team, including from the State Department for Gender. They connected us to other policymakers and also guided us in sharpening our policy recommendations so that these linked to existing programs and related policies.

- Phyllis Machio, Project Team leader

 

Senegal

Engaging government representatives as part of the research team was a crucial step in ensuring the project's success. Their involvement not only provided valuable insights and perspectives, but also helped to legitimize the research and increase its impact. In particular, their involvement was critical in shaping the policy recommendations, as they ensured that the recommendations were grounded in practicality and feasibility, making them more likely to be accepted and implemented by the government.

- Malick Diallo, Project Team Leader

 

Sri Lanka

Since the initiation of the study, two government-affiliated officers representing the most relevant ministries to our research—the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs—have been actively engaged with us. Continuous interactions with these officers took place throughout the study and they provided valuable support in several ways, including updating us on government and ministry policy priorities and programs, facilitating connections with higher officials and resource persons, and assisting in the data collection process. Additionally, all relevant outputs were shared with the government representatives for their feedback and review during the draft stage.

- Sri Lanka Project Team

 

Better ability to influence and guide policies

As a result of being embedded in the socio-cultural context, and having deep and wide connections within the country, several of the research teams were able to influence policy decisions. For instance, in Brazil, the government representative on the research team was very active in sharing findings with policy stakeholders. As a result, the recommendation to modernize maternity leave by moving towards shared paternity leave and /or expanding paternity leave rights has informed a new Bill on the topic.

Similarly, in Peru, as a result of the team’s engagement, their recommendation to enhance and fully implement the existing WiñayWarmi program (under the Ministry of Labor and Social Inclusion) was recognized by the Ministry and the Director for the Promotion of Employment and Self-Employment demonstrated interest in future collaborations. The program connects public employment services with other services such as daycare services.

Further, in Sri Lanka, researchers presented the findings and recommendations from the study, especially those related to legal provisions concerning women's access to decent work, to the Minister of Labour. This consultation formed a crucial part of the process for providing inputs for the 11-point proposal for labour reforms set forth by the Minister of Labour.

The policy impact described above clearly demonstrates the value of PEP’s approach to promote local research leadership as well as the studies, which prioritize “context-specific” findings. Even as the road to ensuring gender equality is a long one, support for critical research such as this taken forward through empowered local researchers is an important step in the journey.

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