Today is World Day of Social Justice, a day set aside by the UN to promote poverty eradication, by the promotion of full employment and decent work, universal social protection, gender equality, and social justice for all. This year’s theme is achieving social justice through formal employment. The idea behind this is that when we formalize employment, we reduce poverty and inequalities faster.
Informal employment is employment with no full employee benefits. A good number of Nigeria’s employed population is engaged in informal employment. These workers are usually hired by word of mouth and can be fired at any time the same way. They have no employee rights, and little or no holidays. They are not protected by any labour laws because there’s no proof that they are employed by the organization. This percentage of people, mostly women, are most likely to be affected when there is an economic meltdown. This is why we should champion the transition from informal to formal employment.
Why do people engage in informal employment? Most women have no choice. The unemployment rate, lack of opportunities in the formal economy, their caregiving role, and sometimes, family or societal dynamics play a huge factor. They may also be living in a location that they are unwilling to relocate from. Hence, they are forced to pick up these low-paying informal jobs that have no security and no incentives.
Women also seem to be more affected by this inequality because they have been conditioned (by upbringing) to be content and quiet even when a situation is not favourable. They have learned to take what they’re given instead of reaching out for more or asking for what they’re worth. This is one barrier I am passionate about tackling. I want more women to shatter stereotypes and make demands in their workplace. I want women to know their worth, apply for jobs they’re qualified for, negotiate their pay, and be appreciated for the job they do. I want women to know that they deserve to be valued.
Can we make things better for women? In addition to advocacy and creating awareness, I strongly believe that legislation can be put in place to make this transition from informal to formal contexts easier. If a staff member is qualified, putting in the work, and providing value for the organization, she should be made a formal staff within a specific (short-term) time frame. This time frame will depend on the company size and how soon they can provide full employment benefits. That way, we would level the playing field, ensure social justice and protect our women from poverty and starvation in economic crises.