Organizing Women Workers in the Informal Economy

Beyond the Weapons of the Weak

Edited by Naila Kabeer, Ratna Sudarshan, and Kirsty Milward


With first-hand accounts from authors closely involved in these movements, this collection documents how women workers have come together to develop collective strategies of resistance and struggle.
Women as a group have often been divided by a number of intersecting inequalities: class, race, ethnicity, caste. As individuals - often isolated in reproductive or other home-based work - their weapons of resistance have tended to be restricted to the traditional weapons of the weak: hidden subversions and individualised struggles.

 Organizing Women Workers in the Informal Economy explores the emergence of an alternative repertoire among women working in the growing informal sectors of the global South: the weapons of organization and mobilization. This crucial book offers vibrant accounts of how women working as farm workers, sex workers, domestic workers, waste pickers, fisheries workers and migrant factory workers have organized for collective action. What gives these precarious workers the impetus and courage to take up these steps? What resources do they draw on in order to transcend their structurally disadvantaged position within the economy? And what continues to hamper their efforts to gain social recognition for themselves as women, as workers and as citizens?

 With first-hand accounts from authors closely involved in emerging organizations, this collection documents how women workers have come together to carve out new identities for themselves, define what matters to them, and develop collective strategies of resistance and struggle.

Author Bio

Naila Kabeer is Professor of Development Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University. She has extensive experience in research, teaching and advisory work on gender, poverty, labour markets, livelihoods, social protection and grassroots citizenship. Her publications include, Gender and Social Protection in the Informal Economy. She has also edited a number of books, including Inclusive Citizenship: Meanings and Expressions and Institutions, Relations and Outcomes: Methodologies for Planning and Case Studies from the Indian Context, both published by Zed Books.

 Ratna Sudarshan is Advisor (Research and Projects) at the Institute of Social Studies Trust, New Delhi, where she was Director from 2003 to 2011. 

 Kirsty Milward founded and co-manages Suchana Uttor Chandipur Society, an organization offering education focused on social and gender equality amongst the Adivasi communities where she lives in West Bengal, India. 

Table of Contents

Introduction. Beyond the Weapons of the Weak: Organizing Women Workers in the Informal Economy - Naila Kabeer, Kirsty Milward and Ratna Sudarshan
1. Women and Rural Trade Unions in North-East Brazil - Ben Selwyn
2. Understanding the Dynamics of an NGO/MBO Partnership: Organizing and Working With Farm Women in South Africa - Colette Solomon
3. Organizing for Life and Livelihoods in the Mountains of Uttarakhand: the Experience of Uttarakhand Mahila Parishad - Anuradha Pande
4. Negotiating Patriarchies: Women Fisheries Workers Build SNEHA in Tamil Nadu - Jesu Rethinam
5. 'If You Don't See a Light in the Darkness, You Must Light a Fire': Brazilian Domestic Workers' Struggle for Rights - Andrea Cornwall with Creuze Oliveira and Terezinha Gonçalves
6. The Challenge of Organizing Domestic Workers in Bangalore: Caste, Gender and Employer-Employee Relations in the Informal Economy - Geeta Menon
7. Power at the Bottom of the Heap: Organizing Waste Pickers in Pune - Lakshmi Narayan and Poornima Chikarmane
8. Sex, Work and Citizenship: the VAMP Sex Workers' Collective in Maharashtra - Meena Seshu
9. Gender, Ethnicity and the Illegal 'Other': Women from Burma Organizing Women Across Borders - Jackie Pollock
Endnote. Looking back on Four Decades of Organizing: the Experience of SEWA - Ela Bhatt


'A must for anyone interested in the power of organization and the intersection of employment, poverty, and gender.'
Marty Chen, Harvard Kennedy School

'While many talk about women's empowerment, this book offers concrete and inspiring examples of how it is done!'
John Gaventa, University of Sussex

'Women's organisations are reviving a sense of solidarity and rescuing the meaning of equality, while giving new meaning to the ethos of freedom. This book speaks to that agenda, and should be widely read.'
Guy Standing, SOAS


Publication Date: 14 March 2013
312 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781780324517
Hardback: 9781780324524
eBook ePub: 9781780324548
eBook PDF: 9781780324531
eBook Kindle: 9781780324555

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