ILC 2021 events where HNI was present

The Nordic Folk School

Discussion with the Network representatives on COVID-19 and its impact on women workers in the informal economy and how to ensure a recovery that takes into account the need to transition from the informal to the formal economy.

Covid-19 and its impact on women home-based workers

By: Betty Lunkuse

HNI International Working Committee member

Increased burden of unpaid care work

The norm, especially here in Africa, is that as women we do most of this unpaid care work at home, which is our work place, this leaves us with almost no time to carry out our paid work at our workplaces. To earn an income, for example in our organisation Envirojewels, we weave baskets, you are paid for every basket that you weave and is completed, spending more time doing unpaid care work at home means you will not earn any income as you have no baskets to sell.

Domestic violence

Having little or no income as women home-based workers, is a recipe for domestic violence, as most women are now dependant so much on their partners for financial support, yet you find that they are also in a dire financial situation due to the lockdown, this dependency results into domestic violence as home demands are not meant as expected.

Women home-based workers are not essential workers

Women home-based workers are not mentioned among essential workers to be prioritized for both Covid-19 testing and vaccination. We see women workers from the formal sector prioritized for Covid-19 testing and vaccination as workers. When we visited a health facility in our community for vaccination where we were asked to show whether we were among the essential workers mentioned that is the, teachers, nurses or army staff, hence we were referred to another time after the vaccination of the essential workers, which leaves women home- based workers at a very risky position of escalation of the disease.

Food insecurity

When our supply chains were broken, women home-based workers lost income. At the same time prices for basic needs increased, which has brought about food shortages in our homes and accessing relief packages provided by governments was a very slow process where it managed to reach.

Hindered communication and access to information

Without our daily income, our communication and information access has been hampered as both airtime and affordable data to continue communicating among members in our networks is now a challenge, we used to share skills via social media, but now it’s difficult.

No more savings

Money that had been saved from cash rounds in our groups, saving schemes were withdrawn to cater for daily livelihoods. Most of the savings from the previous year had already been used to pay school fees . Members’ abilities to continue  saving at this time is difficult and some groups have stopped saving completely.


When the lockdown was enforced many women home-based workers turned to subsistence agriculture as an alternative work, when it came to selling their produce, there was a big issue of low price fluctuations of the produce they had for sale, so most of the agricultural produce, especially maize, was decaying in stores.


We are using the lockdown period to pass on basic skills like farming, renewable energy in the form of briquettes.

A recovery that takes into account the need to transit from the informal to the formal economy would consist of:
  1. Recognition of women home-based workers as workers to be included into the rights and protection of workers. We lost our work but mostly we are not able to access government relief, so recognition is the most basic demand.
  2. Everyone must be covered by Social Protection and the system should be based on those who are richer should pay more to support those who cannot afford or afford less. A case in point this would be achieved through legitimate debt cancellation.
  3. Support for cooperatives or producer companies. Part of the recovery that we have seen is when women home-based workers are part of the cooperatives or producer companies. Cooperatives have been agile in adapting to local supply chains, changing the products, for instance, from garments to masks or production of food. This has ensured that their members have access to work.

3 June 2021 - 19 June 2021


For media inquiries, please contact:

Laura Revelo

HNI Communications Officer